• Last modified 550 days ago (July 15, 2020)


Staying in touch . . . by touching only glass

Staff writer

Margie Schwartz presses her ear tight to her smartphone in an effort to hear her husband, Richard, through the glass.

“What was that you said?” she asks as she leans against a window pane Monday at St. Luke Living Center.

“Don’t let that little cat fall off your lap,” she says.

Richard Schwartz, a retired Marines Corps colonel, smiles and pets the kitten nestled on his knee.

Margie and son, Thane Schwartz, haven’t held the hand of their hero in more than four months since St. Luke banned visitors to protect residents from COVID.

So they gather every morning at the window of the care home’s cafeteria and talk to him through the glass.

It’s hard, they admit. Richard has dementia and often finds the visits confusing.

“We are on the outside and can’t come in,” Thane said. “He doesn’t always understand that.”

Still, they back St. Luke’s decision to lock down as cases in the county have risen to 26.

“It’s better safe than sorry,” Thane said, “because we know it’s going to work. At least we can see him. A lot of people don’t have their dads right now.”

Both Thane and Margie Schwartz have high praise for staff members who they said are doing their best to cheer up their loved one in an imperfect world.

“Marion is so lucky to have this place with these workers, Margie said. “Oh, my gosh, the workers are beyond good.”

The kitten on Richard’s lap was brought in by an employee. He calls it “corporal kitty” — a possible reminder of Richard’s career in the military.

He served 30 years with the Marines and was company commander of a regiment that took part in Operation Starlite, the first night amphibious landing in Vietnam.

His family spearheaded an effort to have his company awarded the bronze star and “took it all the way to the Pentagon” several years ago, Thane said.

They abandoned the case when it brought back troubling memories for Richard.

“I believe he should have gotten it and everybody else that fought should have gotten a bronze star,” he said.

Witnessing the loneliness of residents who smile and wave at the window when he and his mother see Richard is hard, he said.

But so is the insistence of some residents that being asked to wear a face mask and socially distance is an infringement on their freedom when their military family is being asked to sacrifice so much.

“This is one of those ‘foot of Jesus moments,’ ” Thane said. “I am sure he would say ‘Put a mask on until I get to you.’ ”

The epidemic has forced Thane to retire from teaching special education at Hillsboro High School this year. He has congenital heart failure and can’t risk contracting the virus.

“It’s going to be really hard not doing that,” he said. “If there was a vaccine I might. But right now I cannot risk even getting the flu.”

Hard choices have forced him to adjust his priorities.

He admits he has visited his father more in the last five months than he has in the past five years.

“We took him for granted,” he said. “That’s the problem; we take someone for granted.”

Still Thane and his family are not losing hope even amid a pandemic that separates them from someone they love.

“God orchestrates circumstances, drives away tears, and brings smiles back to our faces,” he said. “And even though those smiles are covered by a mask, we can see the emotion through the eyes.”

Last modified July 15, 2020