On Thursday, Tom, 94, and Mildred Brown, 90, will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary — but not together.
Not even if Mildred remains at a social distance. Or wears a mask. Even though they both live at Lenoir Woods Senior Living Community in Columbia.
Mildred Brown stays in the apartment they occupied together for five years before her husband’s health necessitated his move last year to a room in a long-term care facility on the campus.
The Browns represent families locally and nationwide enduring separation from elderly and sometimes ill loved ones because of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta advises nursing homes and long-term care facilities to prohibit visitors to reduce the virus spread among residents.
The elderly often have preexisting health conditions and are more susceptible to the virus, according to the CDC and state health officials.
There have been no reported COVID-19 cases among residents at Lenoir. One resident tested positive at Cedarhurst, an assisted living center in Columbia.
Missouri’s state of emergency adheres to that prohibition. Mildred Brown is considered a visitor — and is, therefore, barred from her husband’s room — because Lenoir’s apartment building is separate from the assisted living unit.
She has not seen her husband, who has Alzheimer’s disease, in two months. Brown offered to get tested for COVID-19 and then meet her husband in a separate room. But that would violate the order, Brown said officials at Lenoir told her.
She’s written a letter to Gov. Mike Parson, who issued the declaration in March, and tried to contact the Department of Health and Senior Services — also via a letter.
Brown received an answer from Parson’s office. Nothing could be done.
“I wish they could get together,” said Ray Brown, 68, one of their four children. “On the other hand, I understand fully why (it) is necessary to protect people.”
The family decided to commemorate Tom’s birthday, which was Saturday, and their wedding anniversary by phone. It will be the first time they celebrate apart, but not the first time the celebration has changed. Before moving to Lenoir, the couple had a 30-year-old tradition.
“We would dress in our wedding clothes and have somebody take our picture,” said Mildred Brown. They stopped after their 65th anniversary. It had become difficult to fit their wedding clothes.
Before COVID-19 separated them, Brown would walk daily to her husband’s room and stay there most, if not all, day.
“I was really with him sometimes 12 hours a day. We just felt that his room was a home for us,” she said. “I came to the apartment to do what I needed to, and sleep, and we would get back the next day.”
Following the March order, Mildred and six other people also separated from their partners would meet them at the unit’s fence near the garden area. They remained 6 feet apart and wore masks. But the meetings constituted visits — violations of the state’s order. The Lenoir Woods administrators had to halt them.
But conversation helps slow the degenerative effects of Brown’s disease. So his wife began meeting him at his window, where they could see each other while talking on the phone. They then moved to FaceTime, which Brown said her husband thinks is better “because we have a clear vision and the window was dark,” she said.
“We do FaceTime three times a week.All of that has helped,” she said.
Brown is allowed two phone calls per day. The Browns’ children rotate the first call. Mildred Brown makes the second call every day.
“I really appreciate what Lenoir has been able to do,” said Ray Brown, who lives in Fulton and used to visit his parents at least once weekly. “They have been very lucky, and we have been very lucky that they managed to not have any positive cases there.”