A daughter holding her mother’s hand. A son overcome that his 95-year-old mother had survived the pandemic. A stoic family patriarch, suddenly in tears.
After a year of excruciating lockdowns, these were the scenes at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities as they began to open up this spring. Before the arrival of vaccines, one in three coronavirus deaths in the United States had ties to nursing homes or similar facilities.
The New York Times sent photographers across the country to document reunions. For many family members, it was the first time they were able to be together, hold hands and hug in more than a year.
In interviews, which have been edited and condensed for clarity, families recalled a deep fear that they would never see their loved ones again. When the time finally came, they were flooded with a year’s worth of emotion in a single instant: joy, relief, love — and grief for all the time that had been lost.
San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living
Con Yan Muy, 93, has been a resident at the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living nursing home since 2019. Anita Li, 24, grew up with her grandmother and previously visited daily. For a year during the pandemic, she saw her grandmother only a handful of times through a window or at a distance. Even now, her visits remain limited, as is the case at many facilities.
ANITA LI: I was hiding in the bathroom when she came in. It was a surprise. She didn’t recognize me initially because I had my mask on. I am going to be honest, I was kind of sad. I am one of the most involved persons in her life, and she couldn’t recognize me. I immediately just started patting her legs and her arms for better blood circulation. I had brought some dumplings and also brought her some sesame balls that she really enjoys. We made a video for the rest of the family for her to say hi.
It’s like a sigh of relief that we could finally be together, but also knowing that this was a one-time thing, and not really sure what the future holds. Am I going to see her every week face to face? Can I eventually take her out on walks where she can get some sun? What is the new normal, and how much can we be involved in her life postquarantine?
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