Former recreational pilot, Uber driver, art gallery docent and community volunteer, 85-year-old Beverly Blietz found herself involuntarily locked down in her senior living facility when the pandemic hit. She is seen here in 2016. Credit: Courtesy of Beverly Bleitz

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In her second audio diary, Beverly Blietz describes living under a continued lockdown at her senior living facility — and her decision to move out. Produced by Coburn Dukehart for WPR.

Confined to her apartment since mid-March, senior living facility resident Beverly Blietz grew increasingly depressed. A former recreational pilot, Uber driver, art gallery docent and community volunteer, 85-year-old Blietz loved to drive around Door County visiting with friends and family, but found herself involuntarily locked down when the pandemic hit. Her 680-square-foot apartment, instead of offering independent living, began to feel more like a cage.

Former recreational pilot, Uber driver, art gallery docent and community volunteer, 85-year-old Beverly Blietz found herself involuntarily locked down in her senior living facility when the pandemic hit. She is seen here in 2016 posing with a friend’s plane that was similar to one she owned. Credit: Courtesy of Beverly Bleitz

Unable to visit with her son or daughter, who both live in neighboring towns, Blietz said she began to reconsider her living arrangement, even taking to looking through local rental ads to see if there was a new place she could move.

“What if this is to be my last summer on earth?” Blietz wondered. “Because if it is, should I be making decisions to redirect the life I have left? I’m safe and virus free, but at what cost?” 

In addition to her own feelings of extreme loneliness, Blietz reports that other residents of Good Samaritan-Scandia Village “are despondent and desperate for conversation with a friendly face.” She questions whether the lockdown procedures, while designed to keep the elderly population safe, are ultimately worth the cost. “In the future will we look back on these days as irreparably damaging to an aging population? Will we better understand or even accept the brutality of isolation?”

Making the situation particularly painful, Blietz’s son-in-law, Mike Martin, 64, is a resident of the memory care center at the same facility. Blietz can see his building across the parking lot from her patio. Prior to the pandemic, her daughter Paige used to visit him regularly, but now has not seen him in three-and-a-half months. 

Blietz recalls that when Paige would visit Mike, she would end each visit by telling him she loves him, and that she would always come back. “Can he understand what has happened to their world, and can he ever know why she hasn’t returned?” Blietz said.

Even though she had her own outdoor patio space at Scandia Village in Sister Bay, Wis., Beverly Blietz still felt confined by the senior living rules that mostly confined her to her 680-square-foot apartment. “I’m safe and virus free, but at what cost?” she wondered. “The people around me are despondent and desperate for conversation with a friendly face.” Credit: Courtesy of Beverly Bleitz

In mid-June, Paige invited Blietz to move into her condo in Ellison Bay. Initially reticent to impose on her daughter, Blietz ultimately took her up on the offer. Still, her freedom is limited. While Blietz is no longer subject to nursing home rules, she must still stay close to home and distant from her extended family.

“I realize that my lifestyle will not change with the new landscape. I am, and will continue to long for the habits that brought me joy, but now I’m fearful of people I know and love. Of places harboring potential pandemic, and of things I cannot see.”

At the end of June, settled into her daughter’s guest room, Blietz recalled waking from a favorite dream: “I was flying my airplane in the cockpit alone, taxiing out to the run-up pad, then, without a sound, cleared for takeoff. Throttle forward, the surge of power, accelerating. It took me back 40 years to my first solo flight, and that heart-skipping moment of lift-off. Breaking the bonds of earth, and free again.”

Her stay with her daughter won’t be forever though — Blietz has signed a lease in a different apartment complex in the area, and will be moving into her own place at the end of July.

Coburn Dukehart

Coburn Dukehart is the digital and multimedia director for the Center. Her role includes directing its visual strategy, creating visual and audio content, managing digital assets and training student and professional journalists. Dukehart has a master's degree in photojournalism from the University of Missouri, and has previously worked as a senior photo editor at National Geographic and NPR. Her multimedia work has been honored with a Webby, a Gracie, a Murrow and duPont awards, and she was nominated for a national Emmy. She specializes in documentary storytelling and visual reporting, and is a member of the National Press Photographers Association and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She is based in Madison, Wisconsin. She can be reached at cdukehart@wisconsinwatch.org