On Hearts

Source: Jewish Home Family

I walked into my office this morning and found a small clear gift bag, festooned with hearts and tied with a heart ribbon, sitting on my desk.  The bag contained some heart shaped sugar cookies decorated with pink and red sprinkles and some Hershey kisses in the same color scheme.  Mine was not the only desk that was graced by this sweet anonymous gift and I know that each of us who was so honored began the day with a smile and a warm heart.

February tends to be full of “heart-focused” events and whether you celebrate your sweetheart or focus on the heart health aspects of National Heart Month, the symbol and the symbolism of hearts are all around us at this time of year.

It’s been a tough year for hearts.  It is just a year since COVID-19 forced its way into our world and our reality.  Heartache and heart break have been its close companions.  Illness, loss, isolation are all words that have been, unfortunately, the hallmark of this past year.

But as we look today at the world around us in 2021, we are beginning to see rays of light and hope.  We are seeing elders and staff protect themselves with vaccine and their family members and others beginning to get vaccinated.  It can’t move quickly enough, we all know, but the motion is forward and for that we are grateful.

Coming out of the acute phase of this crisis, it seems to me that what we have to do now is really focus on heart, focus specifically on the emotional and spiritual needs of our elders and our staff.  While we have worked very hard to make our elders feel connected and engaged, being deprived of family, being limited in socialization within the communities in which they live, has been detrimental.  We have to find ways to open our doors again, to let our elders live full and meaningful lives.  We have to tell them, and show them, that they matter and that have not been forgotten during this difficult year.  Families, too, have felt the pain of separation, the stress of not being able to be present and spend time with their loved ones.  Healing the ache in our hearts can only be done by enabling and encouraging an end to isolation and an end to separation.

Our staff, too, need to heal their hearts.  Many of them have been touched by this virus. They have been ill themselves or have had family members and friends fall ill.  Some did not survive.  And all of them, all of us, have seen beloved elders fall victim to the virus, some of them coming through it and others not.  In the early days of the pandemic, we wrestled with anxiety and frustration about the lack of knowledge and support.  As we have learned more, and managed better, we have continued to struggle with the effects of isolation and our own stunted existences outside the workplace.

While we will move past this COVID era, we cannot allow ourselves to give short shrift to the emotions and pain that exist.  When the moment comes, and we all pray it will be soon, that we begin to think “it’s over,” we must remember that there is healing left to do and that all these hearts, all our hearts, need attention, need mending, need care.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is chair-elect of LeadingAge and past chair of the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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