Winnipeg care home residents excited to see family this Christmas

Bea Rusk can’t wait for Christmas dinner at her daughter’s house this year.

After nearly two years of a pandemic that’s kept care home residents like her under strict rules, the 90-year-old said it’ll be nice to get out for a holiday gathering that feels a bit closer to normal.

Rusk said she even told her daughter not to worry about cooking for their three-person dinner party — for her, the food isn’t what will make it special.

“I said, ‘I’ll go with a hot dog, even. I would rather you not work,'” she said earlier this month, sitting on a couch at Winnipeg’s Thorvaldson Care Center, surrounded by Christmas trees, garlands and poinsettias put out for the festive season.

“But of course, she’s going to do a turkey, because everybody looks forward to that. And then she has the Christmas pudding and the Christmas sauce, all those things.”

So far, the family-run intermediate care center on Stradbrook Avenue has managed to keep COVID-19 out. For a while, that meant keeping visitors out, too.

Rusk’s daughter, Margot Nelin, said last winter looked a little different for their family. But like many, they found ways to make it work, arranging visits through her mom’s first-floor window and giving her a device to use for video chats.

“They gave me a piece of equipment, I can’t even tell you the name of it. But I can see them, and they can see me,” Rusk said, laughing as she tried to describe her Amazon Echo.

What she does know for certain is what she’s most looking forward to at Nelin’s upcoming Christmas dinner.

“She has a very nice husband and two adorable dogs,” Rusk said. “If we can all just be together, that’s the main thing.”

Bea Rusk says she’s looking forward to seeing her daughter’s two dogs at their family’s small Christmas dinner this year. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

close to normal

Maryanna Simister, on the other hand, said the holidays aren’t usually something she looks forward to.

“I just let it come and go,” the 97-year-old said. “When you come from a family of 10, there’s lots of things you don’t do.”

But she is excited to see her son’s Christmas tree up again this year.

Like many, Rick Simister said his family had a more low-key holiday in 2020. Pandemic rules for gathering sizes in Manitoba were near their strictest, and his family was dealing with the loss of his wife, who died earlier that year after a long battle with cancer.

“It’s hard to get motivated to put up a Christmas tree and decorate your house all up [when] nobody’s going out and about anyways,” he said.

But earlier this month, he was moving things around in his garage and came across the tree, which had been in storage.

So this year, I have put some decorations up again. And from what he’s been seeing as he drives around the city, that seems to be the case for a lot of people.

“You can get an idea on how things are going in the city or anywhere by how many Christmas lights are on,” he said.

“This year, I’d say it’s getting back closer to normal.”

Maryanna Simister sits with her son, Rick Simister, near a Christmas tree in Winnipeg’s Thorvaldson Care Center. The 97-year-old said the holidays are not usually something she looks forward to, but she’s excited to see her son de ella put his own tree up again this year. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

And while things aren’t totally back to how they used to be, Maryanna said she doesn’t worry about things she can’t control.

“I don’t sulk and make a big to-do about things,” she said. “You’ve either got to be miserable or else enjoy yourself.”

‘We’ve been so lucky’

Joyce Church agrees—people in care homes are much better off this holiday season than they were last year.

And with all the site’s staff vaccinated, residents all having gotten their third doses and many activities back on, from bingo to hymn singing, the 93-year-old said she’s grateful.

“We’ve been so lucky here. We’ve all been OK,” she said.

“We try and make up for what we didn’t have, but we’re doing fine.”

Joyce Church, 96, sits on a couch in Winnipeg’s Thorvaldson Care Center with Christmas decorations set up behind her. Church says she’s grateful that everyone in the care home has avoided getting COVID-19. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

As for a Christmas dinner, Church said she’s planning to see her two kids on their own, a few days after they have their own slightly larger family dinner.

But it’s not the food she’s thinking about, either.

“Maybe there will be leftovers. I don’t care what it is,” she said. “It’s just nice to be out with them.”

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