This past weekend I had the opportunity to see a Broadway show, one of the great privileges of living within a 40 minute drive of New York City. The city was not quite as busy, not quite as crowded as I remember it being on a balmy Sunday afternoon, but it was not “COVID empty” either. While almost no one on the street had a mask on, theatregoers were very compliant with mask wearing and if they were not, there were staff wearing “COVID manager” nametags who were there to remind patrons and, if that did not work, to have them removed from the theatre.
This week the schools in most areas have stopped mandating mask wearing and people are venturing out in many places without the face covering that has been a constant for the last two years. Of course, in the senior care environment we are still wearing facemasks and practicing ongoing diligence with infection control and use of PPE. Will that change soon? Your guess is as good as mine I think. While it gets tiresome to be masked all the time, it is a very small price to pay to feel that we are keeping our elders, and each other, safer. After what we have lived through, after what we have seen and felt and struggled with, this is an easy one.
But I cannot help but wonder about the residual effects that the last two years have had on all of us, particularly on those of us who work with older adults and on the elders themselves. I think that, for many of us, COVID shattered our sense of “everything is going to be okay,” that complacency that we had come to see as the standard, as the norm, and that no longer exists. Having fought our way through a very long period with no answers, no support and no resources, taking things for granted is just not something we can still do. Where we once felt secure, justified or not, we no longer have that same assurance and it has heightened our vigilance along with our anxieties.
For our older adults, the impact has been even more profound. Whether these elders lived in residential settings or in the community, isolation has been a fact of life. There are still those who are reluctant to go out, reluctant to re-engage in life as they had known it before. Many older adults feel that they have “lost” the last two years of their lives and in many ways that is true. Some elders have declined physically as well as cognitively, others have experienced a loss of relationships and socialization and these lost days, weeks and years cannot be replaced.
While we cannot go back in time and restore what was lost over the last two years, we can move forward while remembering the lessons that COVID taught us. We can hold onto the importance of relationships, the rights of our elders, the value of clear and ongoing communication. We can remind ourselves of the fragility of life and know that each day, each interaction is a unique and non-repeatable experience. We can acknowledge our strength and resilience and be grateful for having walked through the fire and come out the other side. We will achieve normal, I believe, and I hope that it will be a wiser, more thoughtful normal than that which we had “before.”