Last week I had the opportunity to attend my first in-person professional event in more than 20 months. Our national conference, with nearly 4000 attendees, brought together individuals who work in the world of older adult services, individuals who have lived through, and fought through, some of the toughest times imaginable. All of them, all of us, are battle scarred from the struggle against COVID. And all of us had moments when the emotion of being reunited was almost overwhelming. There were many fervent hugs with masks firmly in place, eyes glistening with tears at the chance to be together again.
Technology has been an extraordinary help during these challenging times. We have made the most of meetings over Zoom and other platforms, seeing each other’s faces and hearing each other’s voices. But it is no substitute for the real thing, for feeling the warmth of a hug and the glow of a smile. There’s no substitute for the ability to have a quiet conversation one to one or to sit and share a moment, being inspired as you listen together to a powerful speaker.
For senior care organizations, I think that this COVID experience has been a unifying one. Unlike other issues or challenges we face, this is one that we all shared. It did not matter if you came from a big organization or a small one, urban or rural. It didn’t matter who you served or even what level of services you provided. This common enemy was one we all faced. The relentless anxiety was one we all felt. The exhaustion was still clearly reflected in all of the faces. No matter what COVID’s impact, whether you faced many cases or few, no one walked away unscathed or unchanged.
As a result, being together in person took on a whole new level of meaning. In the past, you might say hi, shake a hand or share a hug. It was cursory, it was a social convention, something you did without thinking. But this year, every greeting seemed to have a greater significance. People were reaching out not to just greet but to connect, to support and to feel supported. We were survivors celebrating our survival, we were warriors at our longed for (hoped for) end of the battle.
It reinforced for me how much human contact matters, how much we, and the elders we serve, were “touch deprived” for many long months. I know that you pray, as I do, that our long COVID struggle is reaching a conclusion and that our lives can truly be reunited.