I was talking with an extremely close friend the other day. She’s been a rock of support for me so many times, especially during recent months when she made a point of checking in, sending messages of encouragement and letting me know that I, as well as all of our elders and staff, were in her thoughts and prayers. We have often described ourselves as sisters from different mothers and, as such, I had the gift of getting to know her mother well over a number of years.
Her mother has been gone a couple of years and her passing left a big hole in the lives of her children and grandchildren. Yet my friend said that, as much as she misses her mom, in some ways she is glad that her mother was not alive to go through this pandemic. It was not the fear of the virus that she was referring to but rather the thought that her mother would have had to have been alone, that she would have been cut off from her family. The thought that she would not have been able to see her mother, she said, was just unbearable.
Her words have so resonated with me as we continue to struggle with the rigid rules pertaining to our older adults. Since June 21 we have had outdoor visiting for our elders, visits that are by appointment, with measured times and lengthy protocols to follow. It is a step forward, there is no question, but it is just not enough.
I’ve tried to imagine what it would be like to be one of our elders and, essentially, confined to a room or apartment all day, every day. Yes, people come to see me and yes, I can participate in many different hallway or closed circuit television programs but I am, for all intents and purposes, trapped in a small space with nowhere to go. Think about that for a moment. What would you do? Me? As a person who hates to sit still, I’d have either worn a path in the carpet pacing or found a way to “make a break for it!”
Of course many of our elders don’t have the physical capacity to do that, after all that is why they live in a residential community. But it does not mean that the feelings aren’t there, that frustration and loneliness are not part and parcel of their daily existence.
We are social creatures, we human beings. We like conversation and stimulation and engagement and entertainment. We like freedom and we are capable of making choices, even when age and infirmity get in the way.
Did we do the right thing to try and keep our frail elders safe? I don’t know. I do know that denying people the chance to fully live their lives and have a sense of purpose may not be as deadly as this virus but its’ destructive effects are both deep and enduring.