Son visits dad in assisted living, sits outside window after COVID-19 outbreak

Two men look at through a window as the speak on the phone.
Bernard Johnson, left, speaks on the phone with his son Charlie Johnson as they look at each other through the window at Whispering Pines Assisted Living in Anoka on Monday. Charlie has sat in a lawn chair every day outside of his father's window since last Friday when he was no longer allowed to visit in person because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Most evenings after work, Charlie Johnson used to step inside Whispering Pines Assisted Living in Anoka.

He knows it’s important for his father, 88-year-old Bernard Johnson, to be able to see his son every day. There’s no doubt in Charlie’s mind it helps his father better cope with chronic lung and heart issues.

The facility announced Friday that as a precaution, visitors would no longer be allowed inside amid coronavirus concerns. Johnson said he understood, and began looking for his lawn chair.

“He likes to talk to me and I know he misses me when I am not around and he gets worried if I’m not here. So this way, I’m here,” he said.

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Monday evening was the third night a window separated the father and son as they chatted on their phones.

“I will see if I can bring you some ice cream treats later,” Charlie Johnson told his father. “The chocolate caramel ones you like.”

Charlie Johnson repeated his words several times because his father sometimes has a hard time hearing him.

“This way I am hoping he can read my lips,” he said.

Two people chat over the phone, seeing each other through window.
Charlie Johnson talks with his father, Bernard Johnson, over the phone, seeing each other through the window, at Whispering Pines Assisted Living.
Courtesy of Sandy Hamilton

After a staff member posted a photo of the duo talking on their phones through the glass, more than 800,000 people had shared the post on Facebook as of Tuesday night.

Charlie Johnson said he feels lucky to be able to see his dad at all — because “some people don’t have that,” he said.

Johnson followed in his father’s footsteps with a career as a machinist. Sitting in his fold-up chair with his feet propped up on the windowsill, he briefed his dad about work. Then, the conversation shifted to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It may be a few weeks before I can go back inside and see you,” he told his father.

The entire conversation lasted about 10 minutes. The days when his father isn’t able to talk for very long are increasing. It’s another reason Charlie Johnson will keep coming by to see him.

“I am thinking of hanging a bird feeder outside the window this spring so he can watch the birds,” he said.