By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
We held handmade birthday posters and waved excitedly at Betty Drumm, seated like a queen in her wheelchair on the other side of the see-through entrance door of the nursing home.
Betty celebrated her 95th birthday on April 25 and 10 of us from her parish, Our Lady of the River in LeClaire, showed up outside the nursing home as a surprise. Our parish nurse, Jennifer Hildebrand, organized the gathering. She asked us to travel separately, bring a face mask and observe the physical distancing requirements to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
Other families and friends, gathered in small groups, have celebrated special occasions with loved ones outside the windows of nursing homes and hospitals during this pandemic. A pastor from one of our diocese’s parishes told me during an interview last week that he sat outside the window of a hospital to offer the Prayer of Commendation for a parishioner who was dying. The pastor described the experience as “oddly beautiful.”
We need to cooperate with and follow the guidelines of our state and our nation to avoid unwittingly endangering the lives of others through this stealthy coronavirus. Our 10-member group understood the gravity of the pandemic and observed the guidelines as best as possible, despite the urge to give each other a big hug after so many weeks away from each other because of the closing of churches.
Windy, chilly conditions left us shivering in our spaces — trying to stand six feet apart from one another — as we waited for Betty to appear on the other side of the door. I wondered what Betty must be thinking as she gazed at the 10 of us, mouths covered. Someone in our group expressed regret that Betty couldn’t see our smiles. But I think Betty could sense our smiles — in our eyes and in the way we pranced around in place, vying for her attention.
We sang the Happy Birthday song to Betty, twice, for good measure. She held a small, boxed birthday cake in her lap. Unfortunately, it was not the cake that Jennifer had purchased for Betty and delivered the previous day. Delivery of the missing cake 24 hours in advance also followed COVID-19 guidelines.
I don’t know whether Betty recognized any of us because of our partially covered faces. I do believe our 15-minute surprise party brightened her day in the midst of a frightening pandemic that leaves many of us feeling blue at times.
This offbeat surprise party seemed like a small gift from God, not just for Betty but for the 10 of us celebrating with her. I miss these members of my parish family. Seeing them in person for the first time in six weeks provided that connection, the reassurance that God continues to guide us as companions on the journey.
Arriving in the nursing home parking lot, I anticipated our small group making Betty’s day special. In reality, Betty made our day special.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye at email@example.com)