Dick and Deloras Billings met for a blind date on December 31, 1954 in Endicott, NY. As they looked toward a new year, they were also taking their first steps toward a new life—together. Soon after that date night, they were married, and this week, on May 14  they will celebrate their 65th anniversary in Warsaw.

But this year, the Billings anniversary will be notably different than those in the past. Instead of going out and celebrating with loved ones, the couple will mark the occasion isolated in their home on Big Bend Road, trying to keep out of the path of the coronavirus.

The Billings don’t have any immediate family in the area. They have three children, including Richard who is the oldest and lives in North Carolina with his wife Joan Cahill. Their other son Kevin Billings and his wife Victoria are in Maryland, and their daughter Judy Swank and her husband, Evan Swank are in Manassas. The Billings also have four grandchildren.

Although their family members live out of town, the Billings are accustomed to regular visits and to celebrating special occasions with family.

A family built on shared occasions

Explaining how tight-knit they are, Cahill told the story of meeting her mother-in-law.

Dick served in the Navy and traveled throughout Europe during his years of service, but Deloras had never left the country. “When she found out her son was thinking about marrying an Irish girl, Nana got a passport and she came over to Ireland and checked me out,” said Cahill. And the Billings returned to Ireland to attend their son’s wedding. 

When Richard and Joan’s eldest daughter graduated from college, the event fell on the same day as the Billings’ wedding anniversary. So, everybody went to Philadelphia for the graduation and celebrated both occasions. 

That celebration was all the more special because of the location, Richard explained. Dick was stationed in Philadelphia shortly after he got married. It’s the place where my parents really started their married life. They really liked going back and reliving their roots, he said.

And for dad’s 80th birthday, what he really wanted was to run a 5K with the family. And we did. It was fun and very special special, Richard added.

“We always plan a visit around their anniversary,” added Cahill. “Last year, we took the ferry to Tangier Island and enjoyed a magnificent day out in the Bay and ate the best crab ever. It was a wonderful trip.”

Last year, Victoria and Judy also complied a book of Nana’s recipes with the family’s all-time favorites down through the years for Christmas. Nana was thrilled because it also contains some of her mother’s and grandmother’s cookie recipes as well as hers, Cahill said.

That’s the type of family bond the Billings are accustomed to.

Coronavirus demands distance

And normally, the Billings’ family come to visit frequently. Richard and Cahill were making a trip monthly, but due to the coronavirus, they haven’t been to Warsaw since February.

We were planning the March trip when this coronavirus news hit. I’m very conscious of the fact that I could be a major risk factor given my work, said Cahill who works in Duke University’s Nursing Research Program. And Victoria doesn’t have direct patient contact but she manages primary care facilities.

“This disease is very dangerous. In healthcare, we’re seeing the impact of younger people as well as older people. No one is actually immune to this disease,” Cahill said. And with the Billings in their upper 80s, their children, have decided to keep them safe by cutting out all visits.

At their age, they really can’t afford to take the risk. We’ve been really strict about it, said Richard.

We all call them daily and Kevin and Victoria send them care packages, Richard said. 

And while they’re hoping to be able to reunite on Memorial Day weekend, the Billings’ children have no idea when they’ll see their parents again. Time will not decide. Instead, they’re monitoring the conditions and the numbers and will make a decision accordingly.

Finding ways to show love

Although the Billings’ family won’t be present for their 65th anniversary, the occasion isn’t being overlooked and it will be filled with as much love as any other.

Normally, there are cards, flowers and dinner. This year, we don’t want that to change, said Cahill.

Before the coronavirus struck, the Billings were active members of their Methodist church. So, their children contacted the pastor and asked him to announce the occasion to the congregation so that members can send cards and letters. Cahill is having her sisters send letters from Ireland, and a plan is in the works to have flowers delivered to the house along with dinner.

My parents have always loved each other and been very respectful of each other, said Richard. They take care of each other. In fact they do it so well, I think they drive each other a little nuts sometimes. In this day taking care of each other is so important. 

Very few people get to 65 years and to be in very good health and to be able to mind each other and take care of each other and enjoy life, that’s really an achievement and it needs to be celebrated, said Cahill.


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