For Utah grandparents, there is nothing grand about social distancing

(Photo courtesy of Kyle and Sherri Walton) Grandparents Kyle and Sherri celebrate — from a distance — granddaughter Liza Baker's first birthday with their family.

Love in the time of COVID-19 can be heartachingly painful.

Social distancing has prevented proper mourning at funerals, shared merrymaking at weddings and festive celebrating at birthdays — all the while depriving many of the hoopla, handshakes and hugs that come with the loss of missionary homecomings, junior proms and high school graduations.

With one segment of society — senior citizens — such isolation is doubly difficult. Not only are they the most at risk from the coronavirus, but quarantining also cuts them off from perhaps their greatest joy:


Whatever name a grandparent goes by — Papa, Mimi, Poppy, Bama, Grammy, Nana Gaga, Poo-Poo, Oma, Gooba — it translates to love.

And, now, longing.

“What hurts the most is not being able to hold them,” says Salt Lake City resident Ruth Lowe. “We spend a lot of time FaceTiming, but it’s not the same.”

Lowe’s 5-year-old granddaughter will hug herself three or four times while her grandmother returns the gesture. She calls it “virtual hugging.”

“My husband is besotted with our grandkids,” Lowe adds. “It’s depressing to see him struggle with not being able to hold them.”

The Lowes have visited with their grandchildren — but only from a safe distance. They went to a pool together, the grandparents on one side and the grandkids on the other.

“They knew we couldn’t touch each other,” Lowe says. “But they were happy we were there.”

‘He told me not to go’

For some grandparents, not being able to see grandkids was an issue long before the pandemic. Distance always has been a factor for Provo residents Susan and Tom Anthony.

The Anthonys have six grandchildren, four living in Orlando, Fla., and two in Grapevine, Texas. They make every effort to visit, but quarantining has robbed them of bonding experiences.

The last time Tom has touched any of his grandchildren was March 11 as he was preparing to take an older grandchild on a tour of Peru and Bolivia, something he tries to do for his grandkids when they reach a certain age.

“We were literally sitting in a car ready to leave for the airport when I started thinking about the risk,” he recalls. “I called a doctor who knows about some of my health issues. He told me not to go.”

For heeding that advice, Tom counts his family lucky. “Peru closed its borders shortly after we would have arrived.”

Not everyone is quite so cautious. Many grandparents interviewed for this story concede that when it comes to their grandchildren, they routinely ignore the rules of quarantining.

Others choose to suffer for the sake of safety. A former police officer and Iraq combat veteran — who asked not to be identified due to the private nature of his experience — breaks into tears while recounting the birth of his first grandchild last month.

“Strangers got to hold my little girl,” he says, “while I could only see her on a computer screen.”

He still hasn’t cuddled her.

‘Little ones come running’

Herriman residents Kyle and Sherri Walton still see their grandchildren in person, but it’s all hands off. Social distancing is strictly enforced.

“We celebrate birthday parties by sitting in the backyard and watching them up on the deck,” Kyle says, becoming emotional. “It’s very hard when the little ones come running to us and we have to warn them off.”

Sherri describes an Easter egg hunt that she and Kyle organized for the grandkids, hiding the eggs and then watching from afar as the children hunted them.

“They naturally wanted to show us what they had found, but we couldn’t let them get too close,” she says. “It was awful.”

The Waltons added another of those bittersweet moments recently when their youngest granddaughter, Liza Baker, celebrated her first birthday. Sherri and Kyle sat outside the patio and watched the party, leaving their gift on the porch.

Sherri says some good may come from quarantining. “Maybe when this is over, more of us will understand what’s really important in life.”