At nursing homes in the suburbs this year, seeing Mom in person is better
How suburban homes are making the transition back
Emails arrived with the same subject line: "Greetings to Mary Narut."
The messages popped up in an inbox for Belmont Village, Narut's senior living community in Buffalo Grove.
Formalities aside, the notes to the 93-year-old, printed and delivered to her apartment like the daily mail, were written from the heart. Her daughter often sent her a cheery thought or words of encouragement while the pandemic kept them apart.
"Hello Mama, Hope you are doing well today," Nancy Ciecko wrote a week before Mother's Day last year. "Wanted to send you a picture of the first flower in my yard. It's called a primrose. Hope it brightens your day. Keep smiling! Love and miss you, Nancy."
This Mother's Day weekend, Ciecko and her two siblings will visit their family's matriarch in person again -- without a window between them -- to give hugs and make up for lost time.
"I like to go over there and just have coffee with her in the morning," Ciecko said.
Mother's Day celebrations at other nursing homes and elderly care facilities in the suburbs will bring loved ones closer together after a year scarred by isolation, confusion and grief. With their residents and most of their employees fully vaccinated, some nursing homes have invited families to outdoor gatherings. Others will avoid the traditional brunch parties, though visitors are still free to take moms out to a restaurant or their homes.
Some families who had once feared the worst will spend Mother's Day with virus survivors. In Illinois, 10,398 residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have died after contracting COVID-19, accounting for nearly 47% of all pandemic deaths in the state.
"There were days when you didn't think she was going to make it," Valerie Seisser said of her 98-year-old mom, who had a high fever and needed oxygen during her bout with the virus.
Alice Eichhorst is now slowly returning to family life. Last month, she celebrated the first birthday of her great-grandchildren, twin babies who were introduced to her through a screen. She knitted them blankets before they were born.
"She's just incredible. She is incredible," Seisser said. "She has a strong will."
Seisser will mark the holiday with flowers and cookies for her mom, who lives in The Vines Senior Homes in Elgin -- a campus hosting afternoon musical performances over two days to manage the size of the audience.
At The Moorings of Arlington Heights, residents were feted with a photo shoot. In the week leading up to Mother's Day, women had their pictures taken by a resident photographer, Jan van Leijenhorst, in front of a barn on the grounds. The Moorings then sent their portraits to their families.
"Every single one of them, they looked like models," said Tara DeLuca, director of community programs. "It's gorgeous."
Having only recently reopened the dining room at reduced capacity, The Moorings took a more low-key, conservative approach to Mother's Day. In small groups, residents came together to share their memories of the women who raised them.
"We're not really quite ready to have large gatherings," DeLuca said.
Belmont Village in Buffalo Grove asked families to schedule an appointment for an outdoor reception of tea and dessert Saturday. About 98% of the staff and 100% of residents have been vaccinated, Executive Director Brian Adelman said.
"It just feels so much more alive in the community to have a full building again and have everybody out and about," he said.
Ciecko lives in Lake Zurich, about a 15-minute drive from her mom, but during the height of COVID-19, they could communicate only through phone calls, emails or the window of Narut's first-floor apartment.
"It was hard for her to understand what was going on," Ciecko said. "She accepts it graciously. However, it was always, 'I don't understand why this is happening. And are you going come in?'"
When she finally did on March 7, Ciecko had tears in her eyes, and her mom had a look of disbelief as if to say, "Is she really walking through the doors?"
"Just the idea of being able to look at her, look at her eyes and be able to give her a hug and give her a kiss and tell her how much I loved her, that was really something. It was a moment," Ciecko said. "It was a real moment."
She'll have more of those face-to-face moments honoring the woman who showed her how to be gracious, kind, understanding and willing to do anything for family.
"She's always a positive person," Ciecko said.
If you read some of the emails Ciecko sent her last year, you'll know Narut, who has 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, passed on that positivity to her daughter.
"Hello Mama, Hope you are having a good day. Sunshine coming your way."