Every Monday night, Sue Eldredge meets her daughter and granddaughter over Zoom for dinner. In a way, that’s a lot more togetherness than they had before the pandemic, when she kept in touch with them over the phone or by email.
She has also seen her four-month-old great-grandson in person, while wearing a mask and maintaining social distance. Eldredge said, if the pandemic continues into fall, she will most likely see her grandkids indoors, though they’ll all be wearing masks.
Eldredge lives in Orleans, at Rock Harbor Senior Housing. For her, interacting with family in the same ways she did before would not be worth the risk of being sick. Sally Levine, another resident of Rock Harbor Senior Housing, agreed. Like many people in senior housing, they are adjusting to new rituals.
Where the distances are greater, staying in touch didn’t change too much. Buddy Perkel, who lives in Provincetown at Seashore Point, has grandchildren living on the West Coast whom he has not seen in person during the pandemic. They use FaceTime to stay in touch.
But although it has started some good routines, the pandemic has changed lots for grandparents and their grandchildren who live near one another. It’s hard not to hug.
“My grandparents live extremely close to me, so whenever I needed a cup of flour or a ride when my parents were busy or at work, I would always just walk over to my grandparents’ house,” said Maya Braga De Lima, 13, of Wellfleet. “Before the pandemic, the level of contact between my grandparents and me was pretty high.”
“Because she lives close,” said Iona Kaplan, 13, “before Covid I was seeing my grandma about once every two weeks.” Saffron Jalbert, from Orleans, also a 13-year-old, said she was seeing her paternal grandparents almost every day, since they live right next door to her. She saw her maternal grandparents almost weekly.
When the pandemic started, levels of contact between family members fell quickly — and that wasn’t easy. Kaplan said at the height of the pandemic she was not seeing her grandmother at all, because “we were unsure how to handle Covid.”
“I saw my grandparents on my mom’s side every week over FaceTime, and my grandparents on my dad’s side from across the yard,” Jalbert said.
“Occasionally my grandmother would come over to drop off something while wearing a mask, Braga De Lima said. “I never saw my grandfather because he has ongoing health issues, and a pacemaker.”
Gradually, grandparents and grandchildren have begun seeing each other more frequently. Maya says her grandmother drives her to work and drops off mail, but she still has not entered their house.
For people in assisted living, the rules of distancing and levels of contact are determined by the facilities. For three months at the beginning of the pandemic, residents at The Terraces in Orleans weren’t allowed any visitors at all.
Now, The Terraces are allowing only outdoor visits, per order of the state. They push two picnic tables together to create six feet of distance, with the resident on one end and the visitor on the other. During Bingo, all residents are in the same room, but they sit at separate tables that are six feet apart.
Sally Levine, at Rock Harbor, saw her granddaughter from Brooklyn, N.Y., when she drove down for Levine’s birthday. They wore masks and maintained a distance of around 10 feet, but they talked — for two hours.
Saffron Jalbert has now resumed seeing her dad’s parents every day, and she sees her mom’s parents every week, maintaining social distance. Her grandmother, Judy Jalbert, who lives in Orleans, has 12 grandchildren, ages 10 to 37. Because they all live on the Cape, she was used to seeing them, and even having the younger ones come for sleepovers.
“We’ve done a lot of texting,” the elder Jalbert said. “You know, sending pictures, and articles, and ‘Hi, Grandma,’ and that type of thing. Happy birthday notices.”
The summer weather has helped with visiting safely. For Jalbert that’s meant meeting in the yard, six feet away, and wearing masks. Fortunately, she has a lovely view of the water and a garden, so she and her husband are able to get out and walk around.
Still, the isolation is getting old. “It’s getting a little too much now, I think.”