CORONAVIRUS

Extended families moving in together during the age of social distancing

Sean and Mamie Dietrich of Mount Vernon visit with Sean's grandmother Lucy Dietrich after their wedding at St. Jude Cath
Sean and Mamie Dietrich of Mount Vernon visit with Sean’s grandmother Lucy Dietrich after their wedding at St. Jude Catholic Church on March 20, 2020. Sean and Mamie postponed their larger wedding celebration and were married in a private ceremony before coming by for a distanced visit. (Photo courtesy of Renee Dietrich)
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Ana McClain knew she wanted her mother, Patricia Bush, to be here with her in Iowa when her daughter was born. But in mid-March, they started to hear news about borders being shut and flights being canceled due to the coronavirus. The family made a split decision. Bush, who lives in Merida, Mexico, would come to stay immediately, extending her trip to Iowa by at least six weeks.

“We kind of had to take action pretty fast, and about 48 hours later she was here,” McClain said.

Bush self-isolated in an Airbnb for two weeks after she arrived, then moved into Ana and her husband, Quinton McClain’s, Cedar Rapids home. Along with getting to meet her new granddaughter, Silvia, who was born April 30, she helped with child care for their son Aldo, 3, whose day care is closed, while the McClains ran their business, Lion Bridge Brewing Co.

“She’s like an emotional bastion in our family. She’s here for us and has been an amazing support in these weeks of so much uncertainty,” Ana McClain said. “Having my mom here has been instrumental.”

They’re not the only family that decided to move extended family members in so they could isolate together. Across the country, adult children have moved back in with parents and vice versa, avoiding having to stay socially distant from their loved ones.

In mid-March, Maggie Gehlsen, 24, decided to leave her apartment in New York City and come back to Iowa to stay with her parents in DeWitt.

“We started to hear things in New York were getting pretty bad. Pretty much every friend of mine in New York City did the same thing, went home to be with their parents,” she said. “We heard that New York City was about to become like a war zone and we should get out.”

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A fitness instructor, the gym she works at in New York is closed due to stay-at-home orders. She taught her last Pilates class on March 16 and got on a plane that afternoon.

“I figured I wouldn’t be working, and if I wasn’t working, there would be no sense in being in this 900-square-foot apartment. My roommate was going home, too,” she said.

For now, she’s not sure how long she’ll be here. She left with just one suitcase, and her lease in New York continues through September, so at some point she and her roommate will need to decide if they’re coming back and how to get the rest of their belongings if they’re not. Gehlsen is waiting to see when her gym might reopen before making any decisions.

She said it has been strange, being back in her childhood bedroom and leaving her big city life behind, but she’s grateful to be with her family.

“Everybody’s worlds were tremendously rocked by this, everybody’s lives were turned upside down,” she said. “I know that I’m not alone, and I know so many people’s lives have been uprooted by all of this and mine has been not nearly as great in measure as many others.”

It’s not just children moving in with their parents; Linda and George Davison moved Linda’s 96-year-old mother, Mary Mann, out of her apartment and into their Marion home.

“It took some convincing,” Linda Davison said. “But we wanted her here with us.”

Mann said she was reluctant at first, but ultimately agreed.

“I’m an independent person. I made my mind up I would never move in with my kids and disrupt their routine,” she said. “But it’s been great. I’m being treated like a queen.”

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Having her there offers some peace of mind, Davison said. She’s seen her children and grandchildren while maintaining social distance; dropping off treats for the grandchildren from the car, going on walks while not getting too close to each other. But with Mann at home, they don’t have to worry about keeping distance from her.

“We just do what we can to try and stay safe. We’re a close family, small but close,” Davison said.

Some families have found themselves isolating together because of events out of their control. Renee Dietrich lives in Haiti, but had returned to Iowa for her nephew’s wedding, which was supposed to be March 20.

Dietrich only planned to stay in Iowa for 10 days, but then the Haitian government sealed its borders, so she’s been living at her mother’s Cedar Rapids house ever since.

Renee Dietrich is director of communications and development for a Haitian organization, St. Joseph Family, which is supported in part by Iowa-based nonprofit Friends of St. Joseph Family.

She has worked there since 2002, and said she worries about the rest of the staff and the residents at a home for disabled children and adults, Wings of Hope, which the organization runs.

“There’s no way to self isolate down there, and I imagine it’s going to be really bad because of the lack of health care,” she said. “I’m going to stay here for a while, even if they open the border back up. If I went down and got sick … I don’t want to take resources away from anyone else at a hospital.”

And she did get to see her nephew married; the ceremony still happened, though the reception has been postponed until a later date. Dietrich, a photographer, attended with just the couple, the priest, best man, maid of honor and the bride’s uncle.

She’s also glad to be here with her mother, Lucy Dietrich, right now.

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“Mom is 84, I want to be here to keep her safe. I do errands for her. I can keep her home,” she said. “She keeps wondering when the child became the parent, because I keep telling her she can’t go out.”

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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