Keep your distance

More than two decades ago, I spent several years visiting a friend as he made his way through the prison system in and around Kingston. It was quite a process, with plenty of rules:

  • I had to apply for permission
  • I had to present ID each time
  • I had to go through a metal detector
  • I could not bring anything with me
  • Touching was limited
  • Visits were watched by guards

Earlier this week, I visited my mother in her long-term care facility for the first time, and aspects of the visit felt very similar:

  • While I did not have to apply for permission to visit, I had to book the visit ahead of time
  • I had to show that I had had a negative COVID-19 test within the previous 14 days
  • I had to be screened on site, which involved having my temperature taken and answering a number of questions
  • I could not bring anything into the visit with me
  • I had to wear a mask
  • I had to remain six feet away from my mother and could not touch her, even to hug her hello or goodbye
  • The visit was limited to 30 minutes
  • A staff member remained present throughout the visit

Making the impossible work

I am not for a minute suggesting these measures are unnecessary. My mother and the other residents of her facility are frail and, as a result, easy prey for the virus. Those who work with them deserve to have a workplace that is as safe as possible in terms of exposure to the virus.

However, the rules make for a strange visit, especially with a parent who has advanced dementia. As a friend with a mother in a similar situation, said to me, when we reflected on our respective visits:

“It is dealing with the impossible when the relationship was already impossible.”

My mother and I sat outside on what I think was the hottest afternoon of the summer, at opposite ends of a six-foot-long table. Lest either of us be unable to resist the urge to make a run for the other, police tape was strung across the table. Someone with greater athletic ability than either of us possesses could likely have leapt across it, but the eagle eye of the staff member provided another disincentive to any such potential misbehaviour.

This set up was in marked contrast to pre-pandemic visits. Often, whichever of us was visiting would sit with our mother on her couch, looking at photo albums, or take her out in the car to drive around old neighbourhoods while reminiscing. We often spent time with her in pairs, so if she was not feeling chatty, the two visitors could converse while trying to draw her into the conversation.

One-sided conversation

With none of these prompts or aids, the 30-minute visit felt endless. I tried one conversational opening after another, each of which fell flat. By the time I left, I felt as though I had prattled endlessly about absolutely nothing at all.

Did my mother know with whom she was visiting? Impossible to say, since the PSW who brought her out told her who her visitor was.

Did she enjoy the visit? Also impossible to say. I think I can say that she didn’t not enjoy the visit. I am confident that she had forgotten it before I had taken more than a couple of steps away from the table.

Will I do it again? Yes, although it is a big trip (a four-hour drive each way) for a very short visit.

Why? Because, when I think about what my mother, like most mothers, did for my siblings and me for so many years, it is suddenly not such a big trip. Even if all the visit means is that she has 30 minutes of something different once a week (fortunately, I am one of many siblings, so we can share the visiting load), then that is a good enough reason to go.

(Plus, I can visit Vincenzo’s, a grocery store with the feel of an old world food market, and stock up on supplies like really good olive oil, cheeses and, as I did this week, custard tarts.)

And now to that cocktail!

My mother always enjoyed a gin and tonic or two on a hot summer’s afternoon, so this week I am sharing an offering from a book by a friend of a friend: Wild Cocktails from the Midnight Apothecary. In this beautiful and creative book, Lottie Muir provides recipes for more than 100 cocktails using home-grown and foraged ingredients. I will be trying out many of these recipes this summer, but my favourite chapter of the book is The Cocktail Cabinet, from which I have learned much about appropriate glassware, different kinds of ice and how to use them and how to make cocktail foams.

Perfect for the steamy weather we are suffering through this week is Lottie’s Strawberry Lemony Heaven. For two cocktails, rub 4 sprigs fresh thyme between your hands. Place in cocktail shaker with an ounce of simple syrup and 4 – 6 strawberries, depending on their size. Muddle well. Add 4 ounces gin and ½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice. Fill shaker two-thirds full with ice and shake hard for 20 seconds. Strain into ice-filled glasses and top with soda water. Garnish with a sprig of thyme, a lemon slice and some sliced strawberries.

Perhaps by next summer, my mother and I will be able to enjoy a pitcher of Strawberry Lemony Heaven together, without a table, police tape or pandemic between us. For now, I will toast her when I enjoy my own cocktail this evening.

One thought on “Keep your distance

  1. We’re glad you got there to see your Mother, Pam, & your description made it real. Having had a Mom who lived with dementia for 10 years, I would suggest a change to your friend’s wording; “It is dealing with the excruciating when the reality was already excruciating”.
    Thanks for the cocktail recipe… you deserved one after that trip!
    Hugs (Virtually of course…)

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