What hope looks like: ‘There’s nothing like the hug of a child’

Families coming back together after pandemic safety measures caused lengthy separations.

Marie Trittschuh knows what hope feels like.

“There’s nothing like the hug of a child,” said Trittschuh, 74, of Butler Twp.

She visited her grandson and four of her great-grandchildren last weekend at their home in Custar, near Bowling Green. They flew kites, had squirt gun wars and bubble blowing contests, visited with baby goats, ducks and chickens and had a cookout.

“We had one of the best days ever since this horrible pandemic began,” she said. Trittschuh lost both her children to COVID-19, one this March and one last March. “To see those babies this past week, it was almost a miraculous feeling.”

The pandemic isn’t over but the more than 1 million Ohioans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 provide a hopeful glimpse of what life after the pandemic could look like.

The vaccine means Anita Kitchen of Huber Heights felt safe taking her 86-year-old mother, Mildred Penn, out for lunch and shopping at Hobby Lobby after a year inside. It means 18-month-old Bodhi Bramlage of Vandalia can visit in-person with his grandparents for the first time since he was an infant too young to talk.

Bodhi Bramlage, who is 18 months old and lives in Vandalia, visited last week with his fully-vaccinated grandfather for the first time in over a year.
Bodhi Bramlage, who is 18 months old and lives in Vandalia, visited last week with his fully-vaccinated grandfather for the first time in over a year.

“I felt (the COVID-19 vaccine) allowed me back my life; it gave a lot of our freedoms back,” Kitchen said.

The pandemic has increased loneliness, anxiety and depression in the population, but mental health experts anticipate people’s moods improving as they connect in-person again.

“Hope is on the horizon,” said Scott Hall, a mental health counseling professor at the University of Dayton. “I think we’re realizing that we’ve really turned the corner and I truly notice an upswing in mental health … The antidote for loneliness is connection.”

ExploreHerd immunity is key to getting back to normal. But will it happen?

The latest CDC recommendations say fully vaccinated people can do the following:

  • Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.
  • Visit indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 without wearing masks or physical distancing. For example, fully vaccinated grandparents can visit indoors with their unvaccinated healthy daughter and her healthy children without wearing masks or distancing.
  • Refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic.

For now, the CDC also recommends fully vaccinated people continue to take precautions in public like wearing a well-fitted mask and physical distancing and to take precautions when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households.

ExploreDayton Daily News survey: Why people are getting the vaccine (or not)

The easing of restrictions for vaccinated people has especially improved the lives of the elderly, those who often had to be the most cautious and isolated during the past year.

On Wednesday, Jeanette Schultz, 65, of Washington Twp. celebrated her “freedom day,” the day she was fully vaccinated against COVID-19, by going out to lunch with her best friend Sue Miller for the first time in a year. Miller is also fully vaccinated.

People are fully vaccinated a few weeks after they receive their final dose.

“I put my freedom day on the calendar (over a month ago),” Shultz said.

Jeanette Schultz, right and Sue Miller wait for a table at the Crackle Barrel on Wilmington Pike in Centerville Wednesday  afternoon March 24, 2021. Both women have been vaccinated and are out for dinner after a year of isolation because of COVID-19.
Jeanette Schultz, right and Sue Miller wait for a table at the Crackle Barrel on Wilmington Pike in Centerville Wednesday afternoon March 24, 2021. Both women have been vaccinated and are out for dinner after a year of isolation because of COVID-19.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Joseph Bramlage, Bodhi’s dad, said Bodhi’s grandparents are excited to hold their grandson again.

“It’s been a long time,” Joseph Bramlage said. “(His grandparents) barely got to hold him before all this started.”

Bodhi was born premature and spent months in the NICU. After that, it was cold and flu season and his parents mostly kept the premature child away from others. Then the pandemic hit. This month, Bodhi’s grandparents had physical contact with their grandson for the first time in a year.

“He’s been a little shy because he really hasn’t been around anybody except us,” Joseph Bramlage said. “He started opening up a little bit more and he actually sat on their laps, and then let them come near him.”

Bramlage expects this year will be much better than last year.

“(Physical touch) has a huge curative effect for people,” Hall said.

Marie Trittschuh hugs her 2-year-old great-grandson Harper Kosicki last weekend. They haven't seen each other throughout the pandemic except for the two funerals of Trittschuh's children, Harper's grandma and great-uncle, who died from COVID-19.
Marie Trittschuh hugs her 2-year-old great-grandson Harper Kosicki last weekend. They haven't seen each other throughout the pandemic except for the two funerals of Trittschuh's children, Harper's grandma and great-uncle, who died from COVID-19.

To get through the last stretch of the pandemic, mental health experts recommend reaffirming in your mind that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and planning to take trips or visit loved ones as soon as it is safe. This will give people hope and something to look forward to, Hall said.

After being fully vaccinated, Peggy and Steve Seboldt, both 73, of Dayton, visited Gervasi Vineyards, a winery in Canton. It was the first time in a year they took a trip or visited a bar.
After being fully vaccinated, Peggy and Steve Seboldt, both 73, of Dayton, visited Gervasi Vineyards, a winery in Canton. It was the first time in a year they took a trip or visited a bar.

The first thing Peggy and Steve Seboldt, both 73, of Dayton did after getting fully vaccinated, was take a three-day trip to a vineyard in the Canton area. It was the first time they had been in a bar in a year. They’re also planning on taking the traditional family trip to New Buffalo, Michigan, they skipped last year. By then, their adult children should be vaccinated.

Jeremiah Schumm, a professor of clinical psychology at Wright State University, said it is time for people to start planning for life after the pandemic.

“People should really look at trying to anticipate and plan for reengaging socially and getting back to the socially-oriented activities that were really very meaningful to them and their mental health before the pandemic, Schumm said.

Gretchen and Richard Allen, both 76, of Butler Twp. were happy to see their two vaccinated children and six grandchildren again last weekend without wearing masks or distancing for a small birthday party. They are looking forward to a post-pandemic world where they can watch their grandchildren’s sports competitions in-person, Gretchen Allen said.

Because Richard and Gretchen Allen, both 76, are fully vaccinated, they felt safe hosting their two vaccinated children and six grandchildren for a birthday party without masks.
Because Richard and Gretchen Allen, both 76, are fully vaccinated, they felt safe hosting their two vaccinated children and six grandchildren for a birthday party without masks.

Experts say we can only reach the herd immunity necessary to roll back more precautions if most adults get the vaccine.

Steve Seboldt said he hopes it is safe to do things like travel by summer.

“We’re hoping and praying that this (pandemic) really does turn the corner and we’re going to enjoy getting out of jail,” Seboldt said.

Coming Back Together

The Dayton Daily News wants to share the stories of joy as families and friends come back together after a year of social distancing.