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190 days, 190 letters: Man showers wife with love letters during COVID separation

‘If you only remember one thing – remember that I love you very much for over 48 years now,’ wrote Brian Barnes to his wife, Joanne, who has been in isolation in her seniors home for the last six months

Brian Barnes and his wife, Joanne, have been married for 44 years.

However, for the past six months due to COVID-19 restrictions, Brian hasn’t been able to see his wife in person. Joanne lives at IOOF Seniors Home in Barrie, which was shut down to visitors during the pandemic.

To keep in touch with his wife during their separation, Brian got a little bit creative, writing her a love letter for every day they were apart.

This week, after 190 days, Brian finally got to deliver letter No. 190 in person.

“I knew this day was coming. I usually take my letter over daily, they put it in a plastic bag and at about 8 p.m., a PSW (personal support worker) would read it to her,” Brian said. “They told me she sometimes would hold the letter and wouldn’t want to give it up. I was told by the morning PSW that Joanne would sometimes still be holding the letter at 6 a.m., grasping it to her chest.

“There were times where I just wanted to go there and hold her hand, or hug her. I looked forward to the day when I could rub her forearm again, or kiss her. It was hard,” he added.

Brian and Joanne met in 1971 in Mitchell, Ont., a small town northwest of Stratford. 

Joanne was 22 and an elementary school teacher in French. Brian was 26 and had just got a job teaching business at the local secondary school.

Joanne and a friend had been planning a ski trip to France; Brian caught wind of this trip.

“They had put a few posters up around town and I was intrigued by it,” said Brian. “I always joke that Joanne was advertising on telephone poles for a date.”

Although Brian didn’t attend the trip to France, he was taken by Joanne and they dated for five years before tying the knot in 1976.

Brian and Joanne have three sons together and two grandchildren.

In 2016, Joanne was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Parkinson’s disease and given a timeline of three to five years to live, which made it necessary for her to move into IOOF Senior Homes, close to their family home. Over time, Joanne’s condition has deteriorated. She can no longer speak and requires constant care.

Before COVID-19 restrictions took effect in March, Brian would visit Joanne in person every afternoon and every night.

Once COVID hit, their routine was forced to change.

“I told Joanne before I left that last time in March that I didn’t know when I’d be able to see her again,” said Brian.

After leaving Joanne, Brian called a friend to ask for advice.

“She told me: ‘Get some flowers and a card. All women like flowers,’” said Brian. “I looked at probably a dozen cards or maybe more, but there was nothing appropriate. So, I decided to make my own.”

Brian returned home, sat down at his table and started writing.

“This virus outbreak, COVID-19, is terrible and has been the most disruptive thing in my entire lifetime. I have no idea as to when we will be able to return to a normal life,” wrote Brian in the first letter. “Needless to say that I miss you and love you as much as ever. If you only remember one thing – remember that I love you very much for over 48 years now.”

For the past 190 days, Brian has written a letter; one for every day he’s been apart from Joanne.

Brian wrote about the birth of the couple’s three sons. In some letters, he provided updates on the family. In others, he told Joanne what he had done that day.

He also signed every letter the same way: “Love, your husband Brian. xoxoxoxoxoxo.”

The first “xo” is from Brian. The others are for their three sons and two grandchildren.

Over the past six months, in addition to the letters, Brian also visited Joanne virtually weekly, and eventually visited her through the IOOF’s patio program, where they were divided by a plexiglass barrier.

After six months of not being able to touch his wife, on Sept. 21, Brian finally got to hug Joanne again.

“I got her in my arms and I held her tight. We held each other,” said Brian.

While the distance from his wife has been difficult for Brian, he thinks the measures put in place in long-term care are necessary.

“Some people call them ‘draconian measures,’ but I agree with them. I’m in that age group – I’m 75. I have to be careful, and I was careful,” said Brian.

Brian said he understands the need for long-term care homes especially to be careful about reopening.

“What I don’t need is to have gone through all this and then have someone bring COVID into the home. We’ve gone through these sacrifices. Let’s make sure it’s worthwhile,” he said.