There was a table and two chairs in the corner just outside the small cafeteria. A painted mural covered the walls on two sides of this table. If you looked at a photo of my mom, Amy Shimkus, and me sitting at this table with the mural in the background on December 26, 2019, you might think we were at an outdoor café in Paris. We weren’t.
Instead, this was my mom’s first day as a resident on 2 Victoria, the Wesley Community’s memory care unit and we were sitting just outside of her new room. My mom looked back and forth down a short corridor to our right and the long corridor in front of us. Each corridor had lots of people walking around. The floors were spotless. Everyone seemed very friendly.
My mom looked at me with a quivering chin and glossy eyes. “Todd, I don’t belong here. Please, I’m not ready for this,” she pleaded with me. Honestly, none of us were ready for this. Not her. Not me. Not my two younger sisters, Tracy and Trisha. Not my mom’s two sisters nor her six grandchildren either.
We were sitting at this table the day after Christmas. Normally a day to return gifts that you didn’t want or clothing that didn’t fit. But the day after Christmas, in 2019, I was bringing my mom to her new home. A place where experts could manage her Alzheimer’s and keep her safe. Looking at my mom struggling, anxious, sad and upset, it felt like Christmas just one day earlier had never happened.
When a parent or someone you love has Alzheimer’s, you have to accept the fact that a lot of things are out of your control. For her to be safe, she needed help. We didn’t want to wait too long and risk her getting hurt or worse. We knew the heroes at The Wesley could take better care of her. We were making the right decision. That didn’t make this day any easier.
To make everyone in the family more comfortable, I promised that I would visit my mom every day. I did just that for 77 days straight. My visits helped my mom adjust to her new home. My visits helped her to stay in touch with those she loved. Each of these 77 visits started and ended with a hug. I learned early on to say “see you later” at the end of each visit because this reassured her that I’d be back.
On Thursday, March 12, 2020, I visited my mom in person. I gave her a hug when I arrived. I gave her an even bigger hug before I left. The Wesley was going into lockdown that day to stop the spread of COVID 19. I didn’t know exactly when we’d be allowed back in to see my mom. Safe to say that I never expected that I would not be able to hug her again this year.
The heroes at The Wesley have been amazing. They setup virtual visits for all of us. They offered window visits starting in the spring. But under New York’s protocols, no one from our family has been able to sit with her without a mask, to give her a hug, to hold her hand, or to share a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie with her in 281 straight days now - - not on her birthday, Mother’s Day, or Thanksgiving. Next week, we will add Christmas to this list.
I’m sharing this story because we’re starting to see the distribution of vaccines that can stop the spread of this virus and keep all of us safe. I hope as the vaccine is offered to more and more people that everyone will say yes. Saying yes to get vaccinated will help us to save our local businesses, to keep our schools open, to see our favorite local attractions come to life again, and to put local people back to work. Saying yes will make it possible for me and my family to visit in person with my mom and to give her a hug again. So if you are at all on the fence on whether or not to get vaccinated, please look at the photo of my mom, Amy Shimkus, on this page. She will get vaccinated as soon as possible and so will I. We hope you will too!