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‘Do you know I love you?’: Winnipeg couple of 70 years ‘connect’ through window amid COVID-19 restrictions

Every afternoon, Shirley Kleiman, 92, is wheeled from her bedroom in a Winnipeg personal care home to a window, where her husband, Sam, is waiting to greet her on the other side of the glass.

Sam, 93, taps on the window, blows kisses to his wife of 70 years and waits for her care aide to pass a phone to Shirley so she can hear his voice. 

“Hi sweetheart,” he says. “Do you know I love you?”

Shirley can’t speak very well after a stroke, but a big grin spreads across her face when she hears his voice.

“We’re in tune with one another. That’s just the way it’s always been,” Sam said.

Visits every day for 6 weeks

Manitoba public health officials suspended visits inside long-term care facilities on March 17 in order to stem the spread of COVID-19 to some of the people most vulnerable.

So Sam has been visiting with Shirley at the window at the Saul and Claribel Simkin Centre in southwest Winnipeg every day for the last month-and-a-half.

The physical distancing is ‘just a situation that we’re dealing with,’ says Sam Kleiman, 93. (John Einarson/CBC)

Window visits have been a common sight at care homes across Canada and around the world, but some nursing homes, including in Nova Scotia and Ottawa, have banned window visitors in hopes of limiting infections and keeping the virus out.

At the Simkins Centre, staff often see family members visiting with residents at their windows, Alanna Kull, the director of care, says.

The Kleimans have lived separately for three years. Before the visitor restrictions, Sam would come by after breakfast, sometimes taking a walk with Shirley and finding a quiet corner to talk and do some exercises.

Other times, Sam would take her for a drive around the neighbourhood.

“Shirley was always the navigator,” he said.

WATCH | Winnipeg couple of 70 years ‘connect’ through window:

Winnipeg couple of 70 years ‘connect’ through window amid COVID-19 restrictions 1:34

‘I can and I will’

Things are different these days, but Sam pushes on, taking a lesson from her motto.

“Shirley has a mantra, ‘I can and I will,’ and that’s been her approach to things all her married life. And she’s proven it more than once,” he said.

He doesn’t think about the visitor restrictions at the care home as a barrier to seeing his wife.

“I’m not separated by that glass. We connect and [the pandemic] is just a situation that we’re dealing with, that’s all.… We may be apart in that we can’t be physically close to one another, but we’re not apart.”

70 happy years

COVID-19 is just another bump on the long road they’ve travelled together, said Sam.

Two of the couple’s three children have died, and Sam says that was much more difficult to navigate than the pandemic.

“She pulled me through all that, and we lean on one another. We always have,” he said.

After 70 happy years of marriage, Sam says, that is the key.

“It’s a partnership that both have to be fully invested in. And if you are, and you trust one another that you are, then there are no real important issues that can’t be dealt with.”

But it’s also vital to remember two simple words, Sam says:

“Yes, dear.”

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