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Ursula’s dad shares what life is like in assisted living

Ursula's mom and dad

“Mens sana in corpore sano. A healthy mind leads to a healthy body. ” That Latin phrase is one my father, Georg Reutin, reminds himself of daily as he lives through the global pandemic in a room he shares with another resident at the Columbia Lutheran Home in Seattle.

He’s been at the assisted living community since last August and was looking forward to returning home when the coronavirus hit the U.S.

After COVID 19 swept through the Life Care Center in Kirkland, the governor ordered all long-term care facilities to go into lockdown. Since mid-February, our family hasn’t been able to visit my dad in person. For someone who’s been married for over 60 years and is close to his children and grandchildren, it’s been tough.

“Most of the people I’m surrounded by are very, very senior people and there aren’t many chances for stimulating conversations,” he told the Gee and Ursula Show. “It does get kind of depressing, so you go within yourself, and you have conversations with yourself.”

Although my father knows there are people in the building who have COVID 19, he doesn’t know if anyone on his floor is fighting the virus. He says they’re mostly confined to their rooms but on the rare occasion, he will go out into the hallway, just for a change of scenery.

At 89, my father has lived through a lot. He was a young boy in Augsburg, Germany when his town was bombed during World War II. I grew up listening to his stories of hearing the sirens before the firestorm that destroyed much of that Bavarian city. But he says this pandemic is something he never could have envisioned, calling it a cataclysm.

“This is unprecedented, no one can say they really experienced something like this. It is a silent killer, and we still don’t know the outcome,” he said.

One thing that has helped lift my father’s spirits is the cards and letters he’s received through the Gee and Ursula Show “Letters of Hope Project.” For the past month, our listeners have been sending messages of love and hope to bring joy to the elderly residents and caregivers at assisted living centers throughout Western Washington.

“The letters kept arriving… the cards were written in such warm tones… It felt like family members were writing to me,” he said.

One listener sent him a long, handwritten note with an outline of his hand, which my father said made it feel even more personal.

“You can imagine…when you’re by yourself and closed off. You’re nearly in the throes of despair and you get a warm letter like this … it moves you to tears,” he said. “That is also something that is unprecedented, if you wish.”

KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show launched the “Letters of Hope Project.” We want your help sending letters to nursing home residents and staff. If you’re looking for homeschooling ideas, get the kids to draw pictures, write a poem, or anything else to brighten their day. This will be a big morale boost for the residents and their caregivers who may feel disconnected from the rest of the world. Read more here.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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