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Vermont Seniors On Lockdown: 'It's Like We Live In A Bubble'

A person sitting inside seen through window glass.
Nina Keck
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VPR
Robert Lloyd lives by himself at an independent living community in Rutland. "Right now, my granddaughter from California is spending three weeks in Tinmouth, and I can't see her," he said. "She can't come. And that's a loss."

In Vermont, 40 of the state’s 54 deaths from  COVID-19 were people who were 70 or older. Because older Vermonters are especially vulnerable to the virus, many are living in strict lock down in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and senior apartment complexes. 

The isolation helps residents feel safe, but also, some say, like they’re living in a bubble.

Enid Reiman has lived at The Gables in Rutland for three years.

It’s a retirement complex that offers one- and two-bedroom apartments, a shared dining room, a fitness center, communal rooms and walking trails. It’s pricey, and marketed to seniors as independent living.

“However, it's really more than that,” Reiman said. “It is a community. We do care about each other. We have the privilege of privacy should we choose to stay at our apartments. We have the privilege of mixing with our friends.”

Two people stand together through a window.
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Enid Reiman is 90, her husband Ed is 95. The couple live at The Gables, an independent living community in Rutland. Reiman said everyone there takes care of each other.

“Do we love everybody? No,” Reiman said. "Does everybody love us? No. But we do take care of each other."

And right now, that’s important. Reiman is 90, and her husband Ed is 95.

“I happened to be fortunate, my husband is still with me, so we're a couple together,” she said. “But most of the residents here are alone. And when you can't intermix, when the dining room is closed, and that's really the convergence of the social life, it's lonely. And it's hard."

"Most of the residents here are alone. And when you can't intermix, when the dining room is closed, and that's really the convergence of the social life, it's lonely. And it's hard." ?— Enid Reiman, Rutland

Victoria Crain moved into the Gables last year with her partner Bill Ramage. Crain, 75, admits she was a bit reluctant at first.

“Because everybody here is a little older than we are, and I was kind of missing the hippy vibe of my generation,” she said with a laugh.

But as she and Ramage got to know the other residents at dinner, playing cards or over cocktails, Crain said they came to enjoy the social aspect of their new home.

“But it’s gone, that is entirely gone,” she said.

It disappeared overnight when staff closed the dining room and removed chairs in the common rooms.

A sign reading "The Gables"
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The Gables in Rutland.

Unlike many residents, Crain and Ramage still drive, and she said they can leave the residence if they want to, though staff recommends people don’t. They rarely leave.

“Because we’re a community here and God, it would be awful to bring the disease here," Crain said.

Crain feels lucky she’s not alone, that she’s not trying to juggle a job or the needs of young kids. But life right now feels disjointed.

“I find it weird,” she said. “There’s this cognitive dissonance about the catastrophe that you see on the television, about the economy and the illness and the trucks taking the bodies away from the hospital, you know, it's a nightmare. And here we are, someone's bringing us meals. We live in a bubble."

She added, “It’s like it’s not happening to us."

“There’s this cognitive dissonance about the catastrophe that you see on the television, about the economy and the illness and the trucks taking the bodies away from the hospital ... And here we are, someone's bringing us meals. We live in a bubble." ?— Victoria Crain

Crain’s asthma and her age make her more vulnerable to the coronavirus. Living in a bubble has its advantages, she said, and she feels safe.

But Enid Rieman worries more.

“You're talking to a class-A hypochondriac,” she said. “I have stopped reading the symptoms for the coronavirus. Because I'll have every single one of them.”

Reiman keeps a thermometer handy so anytime she gets nervous, she takes her temperature.

A person stands on a porch, holding the door open.
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Robert Lloyd describes himself as an introvert. Because of that, he said the isolation of the pandemic has been less difficult for him and has actually given him more time to work on his memoir, something he is enjoying.

Robert Lloyd, another Gables resident, takes the risk of getting COVID-19 more in stride.

“When you're living in a community like this,” he said, “the unstated context here is our mortality. It’s always in the background here.”

Lloyd is 86 and widowed. He believes most people his age have consciously or unconsciously come to terms with dying. The current pandemic, he said, is just another version of that.

“Having said that, I know there are people here I know who worry very much about death and dying," Lloyd said. "They don't talk about it."

Lloyd describes himself as an introvert and believes the enforced solitude of the pandemic has been less difficult for him.  He said it’s given him more time to read, think and finish writing his memoir.

"I'm kind of discovering and rediscovering and rethinking some of the major decisions that I've made by myself and with [my late wife] Sue and kind of reflecting on them, which is an appropriate thing to be doing at my age, I think," Lloyd said. "And I think I'm learning, actually learning more than I might.”

"When you're living in a community like this, the unstated context here is our mortality. It's always in the background here." ?— Robert Lloyd

He still exercises most days, and says sleeping and naps have become more precious as he often wakes up in a state of semi-consciousness, remembering bits from his past.

“Memories from my life come seeping in," he said. "And that's actually been very pleasant."

But Lloyd misses his family, and knows that’s been the most difficult for many at the Gables.

"Right now, my granddaughter from California is spending three weeks in Tinmouth and I can't see her," he said. "She can't come. And that's a loss."

He knows couples at the Gables who’ve been split up by the pandemic. The wife in one care facility while the husband is in another.

“They can't visit each other," he said. "One woman, whose husband went over to The Meadows, and then the virus came in. She couldn't come to see him. And he died. She wasn't there."

Two people stand together for a photo.
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Occasionally, Enid Reiman and her husband, Ed, give in and invite a friend over for a few, precious minutes of normalcy.

Robert Lloyd, Victoria Crain and Enid Reiman all say they are doing their best to stay positive and watch over their neighbors.

They shout greetings from their doorways, wave behind masks as they pick up their mail, and now that the weather is nicer, chat from a safe distance on the front porch.

"It is a bummer,” Reiman said. “To be perfectly honest, every now and then we say, 'Screw it. Come on over.'”

And for a few precious minutes, they’ll break the rules and savor a bit of normalcy in a very abnormal world. 

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