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Pain of pandemic still being felt by families with loved ones living in group homes

'I've really, really missed his presence in my life,' mother says of time apart from son
Daniel Rubenstein hugs mother Jaclyn Merens during group home visit
Posted at 5:08 PM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-02 17:08:31-05

BOCA RATON, Fla. — It's been a long and challenging year for Jaclyn Merens.

"It's been frightening. It's been heart-wrenching. It's been disruptive," she said.

The same can probably be said for her son, Daniel.

"Daniel is a 36-year-old man-child with autism," Merens explained. "He lives in a group home in Boca Raton."

Daniel usually finds comfort in music, but his mother said it all stopped March 13, 2020.

To protect against COVID-19, a statewide emergency order last March prohibited Merens and other families from visiting loved ones in more than 2,000 group homes across the state.

Merens shared her emotion and concerns with Contact 5 last August.

Jaclyn Merens
"The music stopped on March 13 at 3 p.m.," Jaclyn Merens says after she was no longer able to visit her son because of the state's order prohibiting visitor access to long-term care facilities.

"Lately, it's been very difficult to get him to sing with me, and I think he's depressed," she said at the time.

At the time, she had seen her son just twice, at doctor's visits.

"It is heartbreaking because he only wants to know whether he's coming home with me or not, and I have to say no," she told Contact 5 last year.

'Hello, how are you? is sometimes just over his head'

About a month later, a sliver of normalcy returned as Daniel reunited with his parents. WPTV was there for the emotional reunion months in the making.

The state relaxed restrictions on group homes last September to allow visitations.

'It's been a long time:' Mother laments time apart from son

Although grateful for the opportunity to spend time with her son, Merens said restrictions make her visits with Daniel more challenging and confusing.

"Because he's not really conversational, sitting and trying to do something with him or get him to talk to us is difficult," she said.

Merens said Daniel is now vaccinated and, as of March 1, can go home for a short visit. A sense of normalcy returning, along with the notes, is music to this mother's ears.

"It's just been heartbreaking," Merens said. "There's no other way to put it for me. I've really, really missed his presence in my life."

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