Bob Shellard was set to visit his wife Nancy Shellard in her nursing home for their wedding anniversary on March 14, but when the home banned visitors due to coronavirus, Bob had to get creative.
Bob, 90, and Nancy, 88, have been married for 67 years. The two met when Nancy worked at a small dairy shop and Bob would visit while he waited for the bus to go to work at his job after World War II. The couple has four children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren with one on the way.
After being diagnosed with dementia, Nancy moved into a nursing home in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, in December. Bob has a caretaker or family friend take him to visit her almost every day.
"I just miss her now that she's in the nursing home," Bob said.
On March 9, the nursing home announced that it would stop accepting visitors due to coronavirus concerns. Bob's youngest daughter, Laura Mikolajczak, 51, called her dad to tell him the news. Bob and Nancy's anniversary was that Saturday.
"He asked me, 'How am I going to get in there?'" Laura said. "I told him he couldn't get in, but maybe they could wheel her up to the window and we could stand with balloons outside so she can see us."
Bob, who used to work in graphic arts as his profession, decided to make his wife a sign she could read through the window. He went and bought supplies and spent days crafting the sign on his kitchen table. He cut a heart out of red felt and lined the edges with glitter. In the middle he wrote, "I've loved you 67 years and I still do. Happy Anniversary."
"He was so proud of the sign," Laura said. "He kept asking, 'Do you think she'll be able to read it?' He was thrilled."
Mikolajczak drove her father to the nursing home on their anniversary, where the staff was expecting his arrival. When he was all set up with his sign, they brought Nancy to her window to see him.
"I just wanted her to know for sure that I hadn't forgotten," Bob said. "This year she may have forgotten our anniversary, but I'd hoped it would remind her."
Brittany Thorne, director of Social Services at the nursing home, said when Nancy saw Bob she got a big smile on her face and began waving and blowing kisses.
"At one point I glanced over and saw the smile on his face. He was so happy to see her happy," Mikolajczak said.
Mikolajczak called the nursing home staff so her father and mother could exchange "I love yous" on the phone for their big day. Nancy told the staff she "felt like a queen."
"That was a treat," Bob said. "That's something we can't do every day."
Mikolajczak said her mother's dementia often makes her forget she had visitors as soon as they leave the room.
"I tell my dad she may not remember that we've been there, but it's the feeling we leave her with," Laura said. "It stays with her for the day."