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A happier Mother's Day

East Lyme — Dorothy Moreau, 102, sat in the sunshine outside the Bride Brook Health and Rehabilitation Center in Niantic on Sunday, holding a colorful Mother's Day card and a box of her favorite chocolate truffles.

It was the first time her daughter and son-in-law, who sat alongside, had been able to celebrate a holiday with her since Christmas 2019. 

For nearly a year, Sally and Norman Bender couldn’t visit their beloved matriarch, a Bride Brook resident, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They went months without visits or hugs, with video chats and phone calls made difficult by Moreau’s deteriorating vision and hearing. 

But last month, just in time for Mother’s Day, the family was able to resume in-person visits, after being fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

“It is just wonderful to be able to spend time with her and we couldn’t ask for anything more than that,” said Moreau's son-in-law, Norman Bender.

He and his wife realized during their visit that it had been nearly a year-and-a-half since they celebrated anything with Moreau in-person. 

“This is the first holiday we’ve been able to spend together since two Christmases ago and it feels so good,” said Sally Bender as she looked admiringly at her mother. “It feels normal again and I love it.” 

Looking back, Sally Bender said that Mother’s Day 2020 “felt like a nothing day” and was hard on her family. But this year, the celebration was in full swing. The trio started their day at 10:30 a.m. with a visit to the Benders' Niantic home, where Sally cooked lunch and Dorothy bird-watched from their window, even spotting a pair of turkeys and a hen wander through the yard. 

They then video chatted with Sally's sister and her husband in Florida and returned to Bride Brook, where they sat in the sun, until Moreau was ready for an afternoon nap. 

A more cheery feeling

Joe Roman, Bride Brook's weekend supervisor, said Sunday that “morale was up” among residents, visiting families and staff members.

“There’s lots of happiness here today,” said Roman, who said almost every resident and visitor was fully vaccinated and the center has no COVID-19 cases. “Everyone is happy, they’re visiting, they’re actually touching, they’re taking pictures. It’s very nice compared to last year when they were lucky if they got a window visit.” 

As more and more people get vaccinated, Roman said he was hopeful that spirits would only continue to be lifted for the center’s 84 full-time residents and their families. 

“I think the patients will start to brighten up and lift up a little bit after getting this visit and celebration today,” he said. 

Moreau, who will celebrate her 103rd birthday this summer, survived COVID-19 in March and also lived through the 1918 flu pandemic. 

When she was battling COVID-19, she was placed on breathing treatments, and staff at the nursing home brought her daughter in — dressed in full protective equiment — to visit her. Though it was a worrisome two weeks, Moreau beat the virus. 

In the weeks since in-person visits have returned, the family has enjoyed outings to Dairy Queen, visits to the park and car rides. They are looking forward to many evenings enjoying Moreau's favorite meal this summer — hot lobster rolls from Skipper's in Niantic. 

Although Moreau’s dementia has worsened this year, her daughter said, getting out and about has seemed to bring her back little by little. On drives around town, she’s pointed out places she used to live and work, signs of memories her family hasn’t heard in quite a while. 

She's also become a bit more outspoken than she used to be, the Benders said, advocating for what she wants. Like her chocolates and a nap on Sunday.

In the moments when she remembers where she is and whom she's with, the Benders said they love laughing and reminiscing with Moreau and appreciate how grateful she is for their care and company.

“Life has its own twists and turns, and we’re fortunate that after this past year she’s still available to do things with,” said Norman Bender. 

t.hartz@theday.com

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