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Elderly Summerland couple that broke hearts early in pandemic make progress on access

Richard Norris visiting his wife Kathleen in earlier stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. He has since been declared essential to his wife's health, and is allowed to visit her while maintaining COVID-19 protocols.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Megan Thomas
October 29, 2020 - 6:30 AM

An elderly Summerland couple who refused to let COVID-19 interfere with their love for each other aren’t back in each other’s arms yet, but they are getting closer.

Richard Norris faithfully visited his wife, Kathleen, for lunch at the Dr. Andrew Pavillion at the Summerland Extended Care Unit on a daily basis when the pandemic hit in March.

Restricted from entering the building because of COVID-19 protocols, Richard, 94, refused to let that stop him from visiting his wife of 73 years. He continued to stop by the care centre at lunch time every day, bringing a chair to sit on while outside her window.

He was able to communicate by using a whiteboard to write messages, seen through the window.

A heartbreaking photo of his visit, with the words 'Eat Kay Eat-Kay' on the whiteboard was shared hundreds of times.

READ MORE: Pandemic precautions can't keep elderly Summerland couple apart

Six months later, granddaughter Megan Thomas says their access is much improved.

“I’m happy to report they have been united in ways that are safe," she said.

She says her grandmother eats much better when Richard is there in person.

“He’s only been allowed back inside for the last four or five weeks,” she says.

Richard Norris is now able to visit his wife Kathleen in a Summerland care home, without a wall or window between them.
Richard Norris is now able to visit his wife Kathleen in a Summerland care home, without a wall or window between them.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Megan Thomas

Thomas says it’s a lot easier to communicate now without the window between them. It’s also a lot less confusing for Kathleen, who suffers from dementia.

She says her grandfather was granted a letter from the doctor declaring him an essential person in managing Kathleen’s care and well-being. He is now allowed inside the Dr. Andrew Pavillion to be with her, but must wear a mask and still remain socially distanced.

“He’s able to encourage her to eat and can see and speak to her every day,” Thomas says.

The visits have gone a long way to improving her grandmothers’ spirits as well.

“Her mental health improved drastically once he was able to physically be in a room with her again. Our family is extremely grateful for the wonderful care she is given by the supportive and thoughtful staff, and that they no longer have to resort to communicating through a window,” Thomas says.

The couple were able to celebrate their 73rd wedding anniversary on July 2.

“My Gram really wanted a hug but sadly, my Grandpa had to tell her he couldn’t. It was a very emotional moment,” Megan says.

Thomas says she’s still in favour of restrictions, especially in light of the increasing number of COVID-19 cases being reported.

“It’s really hard to stick to this type of isolation, but I think it’s important,” she says. Thomas remains concerned that complete lockdowns could result again if COVID-19 numbers continue to rise.

That could have profound effects on those in care homes, some of whom have at least some limited contact with family now. Thomas knows how hard it would be on her grandparents.

“I think this is something that really keeps him going, that sense of purpose in visiting her every day, and when he can’t do that, it’s really hard on him, and her, too,” she says.


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