Ann Marie Campanaro looked forward to spending the weekend with her mother, Flora. On a mid-March day in 2020, she kissed her husband, Nick, goodbye and reminded him she would be back at their Collegeville home in a couple of days.
Flora Beaver, who will soon be 94, lives in an in-law suite attached to the King of Prussia home of her son, Mark, and his wife, Laurie Van Metre — Ann Marie’s brother and sister-in-law. Mark and Laurie planned to spend a few days at their beach home in Delaware. Despite Flora’s objections that they all worry too much, her children don’t like to leave her alone, so Ann Marie’s visit was not unusual — not at first. But a then-new virus upended everything.
Ann Marie would not return home to her husband and daughter for nine months.
That very weekend, Gov. Tom Wolf announced bars and restaurants in suburban Philadelphia would close to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Laurie and her business partner at FVM Advertising made the then-remarkable decision that everyone would work remotely. The news about the virus and its impact grew worse, and Montgomery County was a hot spot. The family grew worried not only about the threat the virus’ illness, COVID-19, posed to Flora, due to her age, but also to Ann Marie, a type 1 diabetic.
Together, Ann Marie and Nick, and Mark and Laurie, decided the best way to protect Ann Marie and Flora was for the two of them to isolate at Mark and Laurie’s King of Prussia place until the worst had passed.
Usually when Ann Marie stayed with her mother for more than a day, Nick joined her. But his job as a program director at WORKNET, a company managed by NovaCare that provides occupational health services, put him in close contact with others, so they reluctantly decided that this time, he had to stay away, too.
“It’s just until this thing blows over,” Nick told her. Based on what was known then, everyone assumed it would be only a few weeks.
“I lived out of my suitcase, which I would unpack to brush my teeth at night,” said Ann Marie.
But every time the couples compared notes, the COVID-19 numbers grew worse.
“Every week we decided that we were going to stay away [longer] so that Ann Marie and Mom could stay self-quarantined and safe,” said Laurie.
In April, Nick began doing on-site respirator-fit testing for nurses and other medical personnel. In June, he started assisting with COVID-19 testing at nursing homes. It was then that Nick — wearing a mask and gloves — brought Ann Marie’s dresser to her. Mark, 64, and Laurie, 62, suggested she move from their guest room to the master bedroom. This was going to be a long haul.
Flora, Ann Marie, Nick, Mark, and Laurie created new routines.
While Laurie worked from Delaware, Mark, a retired home remodeler, made weekly trips to King of Prussia to have a COVID-safe visit with his mother and sister, bring them groceries, and pick up whatever he and Laurie realized they needed for their ever-extending stay away. The couple really missed Flora and the rest of their family in Pennsylvania, but they were grateful to have the space to keep everyone safe — both their recently purchased beach house and the in-law suite, which Mark and a friend had originally built for Laurie’s parents. After they died, Laurie suggested he invite his parents to share their home, and Flora and Lew, who died in early 2018, moved in.
Before COVID-19, Flora drove her 2005 Camry to church for services and coffee hour or Bible study and to the senior center for tai chi and book club meetings. After, she did so little driving that she decided to sell her car. To her joy, her church, her book club, and her exercise classes all moved to Zoom. Through her iPad, she had access to all the books she could read.
The King of Prussia house could no longer host the usual massive family gatherings — Ann Marie and Mark have three brothers, and Laurie and Nick also have four siblings each. These events, too, went virtual.
Ann Marie, a procurement director for IWG who has always worked remotely, did her job from her brother’s house. In the evenings, she cooked recipes she found on Pinterest for herself and her mom, and then the two would watch a movie together.
Before COVID-19, movies had always been one of Ann Marie and Nick’s things. The couple, both 53, also enjoyed getting together with family and friends — and enjoyed beach weekends and summer vacations. Both work long hours, and so on most nights, they relished any time they had to just be together.
They had met in the ’80s when Ann Marie’s best friend was dating Nick’s roommate at Lock Haven and didn’t want to make the drive alone. Nick and Ann Marie broke up once, for a year and a half that ended when Flora suggested her daughter “call up that nice boy Nick.” They have been married since 1991 and have two children: Anthony, who is about to get married, and Danielle, a recent Temple University grad who lives at home and works for her father’s company.
While Ann Marie stayed in King of Prussia, Nick came over once a week for dinner. Easter Dinner, with its warmish weather, was an indoor/outdoor affair. Ann Marie and Flora sat inside and Nick and Danielle were on the patio. The ham, scalloped potatoes, and asparagus were passed through an open window. When the weather turned cold, Nick still came for dinner but sat far from his wife and mother-in-law and pulled down his mask only to insert food. He skipped visits on weeks when coronavirus numbers were especially high.
Nick and Ann Marie called and texted nightly and met weekly for masked walks at Valley Forge Park. It wasn’t nearly enough. Ann Marie would not put her mother at risk, but eventually she decided it was better to take some risk herself than to spend anymore time away from Nick.
On Dec. 4, Mark and Laurie moved back to their Pennsylvania home. They and Flora eat dinner together nightly and have also continued the evening movie tradition — although they ditched the Hallmark specials.
“I’m surrounded by a very loving family,” Flora said. “I’m one of the most lucky senior citizens around.”
Meanwhile, in Collegeville, Ann Marie caught Nick staring at her. “What?” she asked. “I can’t stop smiling,” he said.
He and Danielle were able to work from home for two weeks so they and Ann Marie could spend Christmas with Mark, Laurie, and Flora. Nick took the week between Christmas and New Year’s off, so he and Ann Marie could hug, kiss, and otherwise enjoy close company.
The time outside of their usual living arrangements wasn’t always easy, but many good things came out of it, Laurie said.
Flora, who loves technology, enjoys the new convenience of participating in activities through Zoom and the ability to see extended family and old friends through Facebook. She really enjoyed Ann Marie’s company, and the feeling is mutual.
Mark and Laurie made the most of their time living in and renovating their home at the beach. They also learned how much having Flora just on the other side of a door means to them.
Nick and Danielle strengthened their bond in part through a surprise renovation of Ann Marie’s office, a Mother’s Day gift.
In January, Nick and Danielle received their first and second doses of vaccine. Ann Marie and Nick have still not completely relaxed, even at home, since it’s not fully understood if vaccinated people can spread the coronavirus. They do not wear masks, but only rarely touch or hug — Nick literally holds his breath whenever they do.
But that — and so much else — is about to change.
Early last week, Ann Marie and Flora got their first doses of vaccine.
On April 2, Mark and Laurie will return to Delaware and embark on a big project: the installation of an elevator to make the place accessible for Flora. She and Lew had a beach home for many years, and she’s already looking forward to it.
That same day, Ann Marie will move back to King of Prussia. This time, Nick and Danielle will join her.