Monica Duffey, 61, is looking forward to the day before Christmas Eve. This is the day one of her brothers picks her up each year from the group home in Waukesha, Wisconsin, where she lives with seven other women with developmental disabilities. For Monica, an avid Penny Press crossword book user and a lifelong fan of R&B group Brenda & the Tabulations, rituals are important. Since the death of her parents, Christmas has meant celebrating with her eight siblings Joe, Maureen, Tom, Tess, Anne, Katie, Dan and Peter.
The vacation usually also includes a week-long visit to Maureen, who acts as guardian with Tom, and a rotation of visits to other siblings and their families. This year, as coronavirus infections rise in Wisconsin, residents of the group home have been asked to refrain from family visits. Maureen and Duffey’s other siblings have discussed the change of plan with Monica many times, but she still dominates their phone calls. With Monica’s permission, Maureen invited a New York Times reporter on one of her regular calls last week. Here is a slightly edited excerpt.
Maureen Hi sweety.
Maureen How are you tonight
Monica What day will you pick me up for Christmas?
Maureen You know, the virus is really, really bad in Wisconsin right now. Do you remember that I told you that? I think it’s bad everywhere. So none of us are getting together for Christmas this year.
Maureen We have planned some surprises for you.
Monica What for?
Maureen What for? For the holidays. For Christmas. We’re working on that now. You gave Anne a list, didn’t you?
Maureen And Katie is making one of your favorite things for Christmas and she will send it to you.
Maureen What do you think? What do we always have at Christmas time and do you like to eat? It starts with a “G.”
Maureen Yes. And Katie baked it today and she will send it to you. So look for this package.
Maureen No, she’ll probably send it tomorrow, Wednesday. So look for it on Saturday or maybe Monday. Do you have all the decorations in your room that Tess left? And your tree decorations?
Maureen What about the outside lights, can you see them? What colors are there out there?
Monica Orange, yellow, blue, green.
Maureen What is your favorite?
Maureen What are you doing tonight? Are you chilling out before dinner? What will you have for dinner
Maureen What is it’s name? Spell it?
Monica [quickly] SLOPPY
Maureen Oh, Sloppy Joe, OK. Well.
Monica Who will pick me up on the 23rd?
Maureen We’ll all stay in our homes this year, honey. Everyone stays away from each other because of the virus. And we don’t want you to get sick because if you get sick you may have to go to the hospital and we couldn’t come with you. And we’d hate that.
Maureen We have a few more surprises, but I won’t tell you what they are just yet. We miss you and love you.
Maureen I’ll call you in a few days.