Larry Hawkinson can’t remember the last time he saw his wife, Elise, in person. They both reside at the Saratoga Retirement Community, but live separately, in adjacent buildings.
In Santa Clara County, health officials report hundreds of cases of COVID-19 at assisted living and nursing homes. Many of those facilities began to escalate infection control protocols months ago, and those efforts to slow the spread of the virus have changed life dramatically for older couples like the Hawkinsons, who need different levels of care.
Mostly, it’s kept the Hawkinsons apart. “It just started tightening up a little bit and tightening up a little bit,” he says. “It’s kind of a dull life. But ‘tis what it is. I would be very upset if I got it, of course,” said Larry, who is 95. He laughs.
Travelers No More
When they were young, Larry and Elise, who is 93, wandered Europe, not always knowing where they’d sleep the next night.
Now the difficult distance they have to cover is the one between two buildings on the same property.
Over a dozen years ago, the Hawkinsons moved into a two-bedroom apartment, living independently in the retirement community, commonly known as the Odd Fellows Home. Hawkinson led community emergency response training and was a ham radio enthusiast.
Then, on vacation in Hawaii, Elise had a terrible fall that robbed her of mobility. They got caregiver help; eventually, it wasn’t enough. They moved to assisted living. When Elise's condition declined to the point that she couldn’t recognize her own daughter, Larry reluctantly moved her to the memory care facility.
“She’s in the closest room possible for me to get to,” he said.
Two or three times a day, Hawkinson would walk downstairs from his assisted living apartment, past the dining room, across a paved lane to Elise’s room.
“I'd be there when they’d put her into bed at night, and we’d kiss goodnight, and she'd say, ‘I love you,’” he said. “And if she didn't, I'd say, ‘Did you forget to say something?’”
Then in February, Santa Clara County reported its first cases of COVID-19. The dining room closed. He couldn’t get permission to visit his wife as much; state and county orders limited visitors and locked down nursing homes.