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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota


Mother’s Day will prevail

Families, facilities find alternatives to celebrate in the age of COVID-19

David Colburn
Posted 5/6/20

REGIONAL- Mother’s Day is traditionally that one day of the year when every mom can expect a little TLC. Hugs and kisses from their kids, fresh flowers, and a visit to their favorite …

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Mother’s Day will prevail

Families, facilities find alternatives to celebrate in the age of COVID-19


REGIONAL- Mother’s Day is traditionally that one day of the year when every mom can expect a little TLC. Hugs and kisses from their kids, fresh flowers, and a visit to their favorite restaurant. Yet, in the age of coronavirus restrictions, that tradition has been turned upside down.
Nowhere is that more keenly felt than in the area’s assisted living facilities and nursing homes, where residents have essentially been quarantined from contact with all but their care providers since early March.
On a day when mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers would normally be picked up by family members to wait in line for a special meal out to celebrate the day, the closest they’ll come to a loving touch will be by pressing hands up against a closed window that keeps them separated from family on the other side but safe from possible exposure to the virus.
As RN regional operations manager for Carefree Living facilities in Cook, Orr, Babbitt, Silver Bay, and Ely, where she also has been helping out as an RN, Kasey Kiefler oversees services for about 150 residents as she attempts to strike a tenuous balance between remaining upbeat and weathering the strain felt by residents, staff, and families alike from nine weeks of lockdown.
“We’re doing the best we can to make things normal, but it’s not normal,” Kiefler said. “People are struggling. The only way we can have family members in our facility is if someone is actively dying. It leaves me in tears every day because I don’t want to see these people struggling.”
Staff have been doing what they can, often even when they’re off duty, to keep residents connected with their loved ones, Kiefler said.
“We’re all using our personal phones to do Facetime,” she said. “I did buy a tablet. Does it replace hugging your loved one? Absolutely not. But it does help.”
Like many of her staff, Kiefler is a mother, too, now sharing the challenge of homeschooling her two children with her husband, who works full-time. The exhaustion from work means weekends are devoted to catching up on school assignments rather than catching some needed down time.
“It’s almost impossible to do,” Kiefler said. “It gets to a point where burnout is a real thing.”
Still, Sunday is Mother’s Day, and Kiefler said she and the Ely staff are “doing as much as we can to make the weekend joyful” for residents.
Activities director Carolyn Schiltz has arranged silk corsages for all of the mothers, gift bags, and a special treat of strawberries dipped in white chocolate, and mimosas. Kiefler is adding her own personal touch.
“I make cupcakes on the side,” she said, “so I’ll be making about 75 cupcakes.”
And to celebrate her own motherhood?
“A little peace and quiet would be nice,” Kiefler said.
Being present
Foreshadowing what will undoubtedly be a common and emotional scene this weekend, brothers Allen and Rick Dahl brought together about a dozen family and friends on April. 23 to fete their mother, Elsie, on her 91st birthday outside of Edgewood Vista in Virginia.
Elsie stood inside at a window, holding a cell phone and cupcakes Allen had brought, as the crew outside waved decorative posters and flags, singing “Happy Birthday.” Family friend Mary Shedd had her own cell phone on speaker to facilitate communication with Elsie.
“It’s tough when you can’t hug your mother on her 91st birthday,” Allen said.
He recommended that families who want to do something similar for Mother’s Day should let staff know ahead of time and affirmed that such visits are well worth the effort.
“It may be that a lot of people are doing it, so set it up in advance,” Allen said. “They’re happy to see you even if you can’t give them a hug. She talked about that for days afterward.”
Orr Carefree Living resident Syvilla Shermer hasn’t lacked for family contact during the quarantine. The 96-year-old matriarch of the Shermer clan has nine children, most of whom live in the area with their families, daughter Kay Cornelius said.
“One of my sisters probably goes up daily,” she said. “I’ll try to go three to four times a week and do window visits. We call her ahead of time so she doesn’t need to rush.”
For someone who normally has an active social life in the community, being cooped up has put a big crimp in Syvilla’s routine.
“Mom likes to go out,” Cornelius said. “She has a better social life than I do. We usually take drives in the spring. We just travel around looking at old bridges, waterfalls, places where Mom and Dad had farms. She really misses that.”
Still, Cornelius said her mother’s strong Christian faith has helped her to keep a positive attitude throughout confinement.
“She said, ‘I survived World War II and everything in between; I’ll survive this,” Cornelius laughed.
Past Mother’s Days have been celebrated at Syvilla’s home in what Cornelius termed “open house” fashion, with family dropping in throughout the day. She envisions a similar scenario on Sunday, albeit outside at Carefree Living.
Cornelius said Syvilla is glad that she lives at the facility in part because with the state-imposed visitation restrictions she doesn’t have to say no to family visits herself to protect her health.
“I think it’s good she doesn’t have to feel that pressure,” Cornelius said. “She always finds a positive.”
Flowers and food
Flowers and Mother’s Day go hand-in-hand, and Sandy Lakner, owner of Bloomer’s Floral and Gift in Ely, has been gearing up to spread a lot of floral joy.
“Because they can’t get together with their moms this weekend, I am anticipating a very busy week and weekend,” she said. “They’re going to want to acknowledge them in some way and flowers is a wonderful way to do that.”
Lakner said that this week she has decided to go beyond the delivery service she has been offering to open the store for shoppers from Wednesday through Sunday, limiting the number of people who can be inside for social distancing.
“The governor has deemed us essential, I believe, for mental health,” she said. “A large majority of my business on holidays like Mother’s Day is walk in and see. So I’m opting to open the doors.”
Lakner got emotional as she talked about the help she’s receiving.
“My employees that have been laid off have volunteered to come in and help me just so we can keep the doors open,” she said.
Lakner has two delivery drivers enlisted full-time for the weekend to shuttle flowers, greenhouse plants, blooming plants, and balloons around the area, including to Babbitt and Tower. She said she has a good variety of options.
“It’s looking pretty good,” she said. “Certain colors of flowers are not available. We’re getting a lot of flower orders.”
Meanwhile, whether quarantined in a facility or living under stay-at-home orders, moms and families won’t be invading food establishments this Sunday, but several restaurant owners are making plans for offerings to make Mother’s Day special.
Among them is Bobbi Malecha, co-owner of The Dam Supper Club and Restaurant south of Orr. She’s been serving take-out on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and recently added Wednesdays as well.
Her upscale Mother’s Day special will be steak and shrimp kabobs with rosemary potatoes, salad, and a dessert. She said she’s considering offering it as a meal to cook at home or to have prepared by the restaurant.
Malecha said she’s looking at how her previous specials have sold to gauge how much food to order for Mother’s Day. This week’s family-size lasagna special on Wednesday could be a sign demand will be brisk – it sold out on Tuesday through pre-orders.
“It’ll go, it’ll be busy,” Malecha said. “We’re trying to keep people interested in what we’re doing.”


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