East Texas families reunite after months of being separated due to the pandemic

Updated: Aug. 13, 2020 at 12:34 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - For the first time in more than 150 days, residents at one East Texas assisted living center got to see their families.

“I love you dad, I love you,” said Teresa Cutright to her father, while fighting tears. “I love you too,” Richard Daniel, Teresa’s father, said back. “I miss you,” said Cutright. “I miss you too, you don’t know how much,” said Daniel.

From six feet away, these family members were finally able to see each other again.

“I wish I could give you a big hug,” said Cutright. “I do too,” said Daniel.

But that six feet was filled with joy.

“I’m smiling right now mama” said Debbie Pratt, gesturing to her mask and speaking to her mother, Aileen Sadler. “And I’m sticking my tongue out at you,” said her husband Steve, laughing. He said it’s his job to annoy his mother in law.

“They have been missing their loved ones for over 154 days,” said Yvonne Sturrock, the director of operations at Prestige Estates in Tyler. “It’s a significant number for us because for that many days, we watched them agonize, be sad, depressed, just wanting to see their loved ones. They understood if they couldn’t touch them, but they just wanted to see them in person.”

“We are so happy to see you, its been so long, we really wanted to see you,” said Holly Walling. “How long has it been?” asked Holly’s mother, Beverly Henderson. “It’s been five months,” said Walling. “I don’t know, Mama, any time in my life when I haven’t seen you in person for that long, I can’t think of a time; I’m so happy.” “Me too,” said Henderson.

“Just to see her in person means a lot,” said Walling. “I hope it gives her hope and courage to preserve until this passes.”

With masks on, social distancing in place, and appointments required, these family members made the most of their 20-minute visits.

“We’re just going to hang tough,” said Walling to her mother. “Well that’s what we have to do, we don’t have a choice,” said Henderson.

“We’ve advocated for this for months. We have reached out to our local and state authorities, begging for some kind of restricted visit,” said Sturrock. “We’re not asking for an open door, we just wanted our residents to be able to see their loved ones."

When time was up, families and staff were hopeful this is the start of seeing their loved ones more regularly.

“See you in a little bit,” said Daniel, waving to Cutright and her husband, David.

“Every day is precious to our residents, every day,” said Sturrock. “So, any day they miss being able to be with their loved one, touch their loved one is a sad day."

These families who were able to see their loved ones are hoping others get to experience the same joy.

“Its unprecedented to be separated from our families,” said Walling. “But, we hope this opportunity for every resident and every family out there.”

“We love you Miss Beverly,” said Mark Walling to his mother-in-law, as she was walking away. “I love you all,” said Henderson waving back.

Right now — Prestige Estates has state approval for their outside visits, but they’re hoping to have their Plexiglas booth set up by next week, to start having indoor visits.

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