Retirement home throws emotional social distancing parade for residents: 'I'm still on cloud 9'

Social distancing has made in-person interactions extremely nuanced for everyone. For those with family members and loved ones living in nursing and retirement homes, the importance of maintaining physical distance is especially important, given the risks COVID-19 poses to the elderly.

But for the staff at Brookstone Retirement Center in Lexington, N.C., quarantine wasn't going to come in the way of reuniting its residents with their loved ones — they just had to get creative.

On Friday, April 24, the center held a social distancing parade where loved ones could drive by Brookstone and say hello to their loved ones who are living in the home. 

Family members and loved ones of Brookstone residents adorned their vehicles with signs and decorations before driving past the center. (Photo: Jenny Brinkle)
Family members and loved ones of Brookstone residents adorned their vehicles with signs and decorations before driving past the center. (Photo: Jenny Brinkle)

"You drive by in your vehicles that you have decorated or made signs to go on, blowing your horn and hollering at your loved ones," Brookstone's activity director Jenny Brinkle tells Yahoo Life of the parade. "The administrative staff was meeting trying to come up with fun ways to lift the resident’s spirits when we came up with the idea ... We contacted all the families to let them know the event we were planning."

All family and friends were required to stay inside their vehicles throughout the duration of the parade to protect the safety of the residents, who were kept six feet apart in a roped-off section of the parking lot. 

The parking lot was decorated with inspirational messages written in sidewalk chalk for both the residents and their loved ones to see, like "we miss you" and "this too shall pass."

The sidewalk was decorated with inspirational chalk messages for residents and their loved ones. (Photo: Jenny Brinkle)
The sidewalk was decorated with inspirational chalk messages for residents and their loved ones. (Photo: Jenny Brinkle)

Brinkle tells Yahoo Life that "the day was full of excitement for the staff and the residents. They couldn’t wait to get a chance to see their families for a few seconds ... It was a very emotional day for all. There was lots of laughter, smiles and happy tears. The best part was seeing the residents light up when they [saw] their families."

One Brookstone resident, Sandra Spry, agrees that the day was "very exciting," especially upon being able to see her family and her beloved furry friend: "I saw my daughter, two grandchildren and my dog! I have missed my dog. I felt very happy but sad because I missed them all so much."

Spry admits that the quarantine period has been "lonely," noting that she misses the simple things and that "the most challenging part has been being unable to see my family and unable to go get my hair and nails done."

Arlene and Ernest Hedrick sit together awaiting their loved ones. (Photo: Jenny Brinkle)
Arlene and Ernest Hedrick sit together awaiting their loved ones. (Photo: Jenny Brinkle)

The bittersweet emotions of the day were echoed by Scott Benfield, a resident in his 50s who tells Yahoo Life that the parade was both "happy and sad," admitting that quarantine has been "rough because I haven’t been able to get out, I am used to going out weekly. The most challenging part has been not seeing my mom and going out with her.”

Social distancing rules haven’t been easy for residents of Brookstone, Brinkle admits. Residents’ visits with “families are now through a window or a phone call,” while interactions with each other are also limited as new restrictions are “keeping them from playing one-on-one close contact games and other activities such big parties."

Jacob Hargrave awaits his loved ones. (Photo: Jenny Brinkle)
Jacob Hargrave awaits his loved ones. (Photo: Jenny Brinkle)

"They really do not do well with change and this is really hard on them,” Brinkle continues. “We have tried to come up with new fun things to do to boost the morale. We have had cookouts, dance parties, spirit week, family visits through virtual communications, and they have made personal cards to mail to their families. We are always open to new and fun things to do with our residents."

Brookstone resident Alfredia Hairston tells Yahoo Life that quarantine has "been good, but lonely not seeing my daughter, granddaughter and my sisters. I have six of them and miss them all so much."

Hairston was finally able to reunite with her daughter, granddaughter, nieces, great-nephews and great-nieces, sharing that she "felt very happy to see them and happy that I got to tell them I missed them for just a second."

Sharon Davis, who hadn’t been able to physically see her mother who lives at Brookstone since March 13, described the day as “pure excitement” as she was able to drive by with her sister, her daughter and her granddaughter. “It was very emotional. My mom is in the memory care section and with her memory lacking, we wonder all the time, with all the time going by, if she would forget us. And it was just so exciting and so emotional that she pointed at us and she waved and she said ‘my daughters!’”

The parade was in full swing as residents waved and cheered to passing cars. (Photo: Jenny Brinkle)
The parade was in full swing as residents waved and cheered to passing cars. (Photo: Jenny Brinkle)

Davis tells Yahoo Life that she’s been able to communicate with her mom throughout quarantine, recalling that “one worker there gave me the opportunity to FaceTime my mom. That was exciting just to be able to see her face and see her smile and say ‘Hey Mama, we love you, we miss you!’ That has helped us along the way."

But nothing compares to being able to see her mom in person, as Davis tells us that she is “still on cloud nine from that day, still remembering [my mom’s] face when she saw us and her pointing her finger and her waving at us … I’m still living off of that moment.”

But it's been the faith and pure positivity of the Brookstone residents and their loved ones alike that have helped them stay afloat during these times.

The residents tell Yahoo Life that they stay positive by reminding themselves that they are "healthy" and that "it’s going to be OK, this will pass soon."

Daisy Swing holds a sign for her loved ones to see at Brookstone Retirement Center. (Photo: Jenny Brinkle)
Daisy Swing holds a sign for her loved ones to see at Brookstone Retirement Center. (Photo: Jenny Brinkle)

Sharon Davis says that her faith has helped her through the separation.

"One thing that our mother has always instilled in us is to pray for each other and that's what we do for Brookstone, we do for all the patients there, we do for all the families that not only are going through not seeing family in nursing facilities but the families that are in the hospital currently ... we just keep faith," she tells Yahoo Life. "We just know that we're praying for each other and that makes a big difference and that keeps us strong.”

Brinkle recalls an especially touching moment with a stranger on the day of the parade.

"There was a guy across the road from our retirement community that got out of his car right before the parade started. He kneeled down with a Bible and prayed for us,” she says. “When he got up, he hollered ‘God loves you.’ This was a very special moment to know that a stranger prayed for us and our residents."

Luckily, this "day to remember" was not a one-and-done day experience.

"We have a special bingo planned for Cinco De Mayo and a mothers social planned also for Mother’s Day,” Brinkle tells Yahoo Life. “We usually take pictures or videos and put them on social media for their families to see what they have been doing. Being an activity director during this pandemic doesn’t mean we stop doing activities; it just means we have to become more creative in how we do them to meet the guidelines in place."

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides. 

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