A birthday in hospice during COVID-19

GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Amy Brauwer didn’t realize several weeks ago when she hugged her dad, Eugen VanDyken, goodbye, it could be the last physical contact she had with him.

He is at Brookcrest Rehab and Life Center in Grandville under care from Emmanuel Hospice. She also didn’t realize that they would have to find a different way to celebrate his 88th birthday, since COVID-19 has kept families apart.

“He had several strokes (after my mom died) and there’s just been a steady decline going on, so that’s why we really wanted to make this birthday special,” Brauwer explained.

She and her family took gifts and balloons to the facility in advance, so there would be time to leave them sitting out long enough for any germs to die off. Then, they met outside his window for a party.

Maranda Eden is a music therapist for Emmanuel Hospice, and joined VanDyken’s family to help them make the party memorable for him. She led the group in singing “Happy Birthday” to kick things off and played guitar throughout.

“We’re looking at what we can do. We can make eye contact, we can use our words to validate, and we can use music to celebrate,” Eden said.

VanDyken was a dentist in Coopersville for 40 years. He graduated from University of Michigan with a graduate degree in 1958 and has remained a huge fan of the wolverines.

“He used to have patients come to his office who would purposefully wear Michigan State stuff just go get him going,” his daughter recalled.

That loyalty was evident at his party as well, with the words “Go Blue” on the back of his birthday signs.

Where there are windows of time and windows of opportunity, this week was both for VanDyken’s family as they sang to him from outside the window of his room. His daughter describes him as thankful, loving, and compassionate, and said that being able to give back to him this way, even through a window, was something they wouldn’t miss doing.

“I know he is going to carry this in his heart with him,” she explained.

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