British Columbia

Pandemic can't stop birthday hugs for Beryl's 80th

For her 80th birthday, Beryl Cooke's daughter built a "hug machine" so that she could safely do the thing she misses most.

Daughter creates a contraption to allow a safe embrace for her very huggy mother

Beryl Cooke embraces her daughter Cristi Cooke on her 80th birthday Friday in Kelowna, B.C. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

Beryl Cooke assumed that, like so many things these days, her 80th birthday celebrations were on hold for now because of COVID-19. 

So she was puzzled when she stepped into the front yard of her home in the Okanagan city of Kelowna, B.C., on Friday to see a tall soccer goal covered with a thin plastic sheet. Plastic bags were taped over four armholes in the sheet. It was festooned with pink balloons, paper hearts and ribbon curls.

"What's going on out here," she asked her daughter, Cristi Cooke. "What's going on?" 

What was going on was that family and friends were already lining up for a safe embrace in the COVID-19 friendly "hug machine" created for her by her family. 

'It's been so long'

Her voice broke when she realized what the strange contraption was for. "It's been so long," she said. "I've been waiting so long." she said. 

Cristi's original plan was to organize a drive-past birthday convoy so friends could deliver "air hugs." 

Her sister Traci came up with the plan to build a device so her mother could experience real hugging, Cristi said,"because my mom, she's known for this."

Beryl Cooke's family set up a sanitation station where friends and family must clean hands with hand sanitizer and put on a mask before hugging the octogenarian. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

"She is known as the hugger. That's her thing, that's her fuel, that's her nutrition."

For extra precautions against COVID-19 infection, family members set up a sanitation station next to the hugging machine. Everyone was required to use hand sanitizer and don a mask before stepping up for an embrace. 

Beryl quickly got down to the business of catching up on hugs.

Beryl Cooke says the ability to embrace family and friends is the only thing she has missed during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

 "Oh Ethel I've been waiting so long to hug you," Beryl told a neighbour. "You're the best hugger."

 "Tiago, my sweet boy. I missed you," she told her neighbour. 

The octogenarian said she had not touched anyone outside of her immediate family since March 16.

"This is the only thing I miss during COVID," Beryl said. "I don't miss anything else."

Beryl Cooke's daughter took a creative approach so that friends and family could celebrate her 80th birthday despite COVID-19 1:05

With files from Brady Strachan

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