From the SUN SENTINEL
Mother’s Day marks seven weeks since Leah Curtis moved into a hotel to protect her family from COVID, 49 nights since she has slept in her Coral Springs home, 1,176 hours since she has hugged her three sons.
An early Friday morning stop at home is the only time the busy nurse will see her sons on this sentimental weekend. There were no hugs, no kisses and more tears than laughs — but she couldn’t have been happier.
On Mother’s Day, Curtis will work her regular shift as a critical-care nurse at Memorial Hospital Pembroke, closing out another 80- to 90-hour week attending to COVID-19 patients.
Many of those hours will be done at other hospitals, where she volunteers to do extra shifts on short-staffed, stressed-out COVID floors. It is an honor to do so, she says. And, besides, without her sons, she has time.
The single mom and her sons share a mantra that reinforces a theme of commitment and sacrifice: “We all have our roles,” Curtis tells them. Preventing the tragedy she sees at work from reaching her sons is job No. 1.
“I made the decision because I’m in a [COVID] unit 12, 13, 14 hours a day every day, where, even though I might feel fine, I could pass it on. I couldn’t live with that,” she says.
Curtis, 44, was upfront with the boys when she moved into the hotel on March 22 — first on her own dime, then with support from the nonprofit Memorial Foundation.
“I kind of just sat them down and said this is my plan,” she says. “At that point it was still really early. We didn’t know what it was all going to entail. Now, as it has evolved, I keep updating them. They always ask, ‘When are you coming home? Mom, when are you coming home?’ And here I am, still not coming home.”
After getting off a night shift early Friday morning, and before heading to the hotel to sleep, Curtis made one of her rare visits to her Eagle Trace home to see her boys — from more than 6 feet away — and offer them comforting words and gentle maternal reminders — through a mask.
These visits take an emotional toll on Curtis, which is why she can only muster the strength to do them every few weeks. Between visits, they keep in touch via group chats and Facebook Live.
Adding to the poignancy of these personal visits is that it is so rare for all three sons to be together: Curtis’ eldest son, Terrance Curtis, 26, is training to be an EMT, while 20-year-old TreVon Grimes is home from the University of Florida, where he is also a star on the Gators football team. They share the role of father figure to little brother Tylan, 10.
When the 6-foot-5-inch TreVon and Tylan arrive at a window in a sleepy embrace, it is clear their mother has not seen them in several weeks.
“Oh, look at how cute they are? You’re going to make me cry,” she says, laughing. “Oh, they’re so big. I feel like they grow every day. Look at that smile.”
Asked about his mother’s work and the sacrifices she’s making to help the COVID fight, TreVon puts on his game face.
“She’s an amazing woman. I’ve known that my whole life, though,” TreVon says, from a doorway several steps away from his mother, in her work scrubs and mask. “This is what she loves to do and she’s going to do it until this is over. She’s got that kind of heart. That’s the kind of woman she is, and I just love that about her.”
As he speaks, young Tylan struggles under his brother’s long arm, fighting back tears without success.
“She’s a really nice, hardworking mom and I really appreciate her even though she‘s not here sometimes,” Tylan says, looking at his mother. “I really want her to know that I love her, even though sometimes we fight because I don’t have my room clean [his voice growing more emotional]. But I just love her a lot.”
Through laughs and tears, Curtis tells him: “I love you, son. It’s OK if you don’t clean your room. I promise.”
Curtis and TreVon go over a checklist of responsibilities — his UF schoolwork is complete, but he’s got a virtual football meeting and a workout on his schedule, followed by grocery shopping. She and Tylan talk about his schoolwork. He says he’s ready to get online for his lessons.
A little more than 20 minutes after her arrival, Curtis is saying goodbye.
“I love you guys. We’ve all got our roles, right? What’s our role? We do what we’ve got to do, right? I love you,” she tells them. Walking away, she is emotional. “That sucks. That’s harder than my job at work, all day long.”