Silvia Straka hadn’t been in the same room as her father in months.
That changed this past Saturday when she was able to visit him at his residence in Berwick on the Park for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic led to lockdowns of care homes across B.C.
“I felt a thousand times better with my own mental health that I actually got to be in a room with my dad,” Straka said.
“It was like such a weight was lifted off.”
Her father, Manfred Straka, who turns 95 in a couple of weeks, has heart issues and a form of dementia, requiring round-the-clock care in the Brio Unit of the seniors’ facility.
While Straka knows her dad is in good hands, she said it has been difficult having to stay away, noting that, given his mental health, they would often connect by singing songs in his native Austrian or by flipping through family photos.
“He’s nearing the end of his life, he’s way outlived his expectancy, so every day is a gift, [and] it’s really heartbreaking not being able to be with him in person,” she said.
At the end of June, the province announced care homes would begin allowing seniors in long-term care and assisted-living facilities to have a single, designated person visit, estimating it would take most facilities a week to 10 days to be ready to accept visitors.
Each facility is required to have safety precautions, such as visitor screenings, masks and bookings in advance.
Straka’s father lip reads as he also has difficulty hearing, so Straka was able to wear a face shield as opposed to the required mask once in his room.
After signing in and being screened, Straka was escorted to her father.
“When the care-aide came to get me, I started crying and she was almost crying and she said, ‘Oh, I wish I could hug you,’” Straka said.
Once with her dad, Straka had to stay six feet away, but she brought a microphone with her that connected to his hearing aides to help them converse.
“It was a really good visit,” she said.
Straka got 90 minutes with her dad and used them all, spending some of that time playing Trivial Pursuit — his favourite board game.
“My dad has so much general knowledge and he loves being challenged with questions on history and science and nature and geography,” Straka said, noting her father, who immigrated to Canada in the 1950s, had a lifelong career in post secondary education.
Being apart has been difficult, but Straka managed to stay connected with her dad during the lockdown, having slipped him an iPad to use for FaceTime calls just hours before Berwick was closed to visitors.
It would often take three or four attempts to connect, but they managed to make it work and, when the internet connection was spotty, Straka was able to get a home Wi-Fi solution installed.
She even managed to send her father a bottle of wine so they could each have a glass together on nights they had video chats.
Berwick has two spots per day available for visitor bookings and Straka hopes to be able to now visit her father once a week.