In truth, it’s not a favorite song of mine, so I am really not sure why a line from Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Waters” has been repeating itself in my mind. The line is one you likely know, “like a bridge over troubled waters, I will ease your mind.” I think the reason that this line of lyrics has surfaced for me is because of the many recent conversations I’ve had, both in our own organization and at meetings and conferences, about how we, the caregivers as well as the elders we serve, are striving to recover and rebuild emotionally from the impact of nearly three years of pandemic.
We are physically in a much better place, a place that is light years ahead of the terrible days, weeks and months of 2020. We have vaccines and boosters and, for the most part, those who come down with COVID now are recovering without complications. There is much to be grateful for, as our knowledge and preparation and skills have increased dramatically and it has been life changing and lifesaving.
But one of the most enduring tolls of the last two years, in addition, of course, to those who lost their lives and those who are still struggling with long COVID, has been the exhaustion and the emotional distress of so many. For those who work in healthcare, especially elder care services, this has been exacerbated by workforce shortages. Early retirements, career changes, fear about working in healthcare environments—all have come together to make the pressure on those who remain even greater.
Our elders who live in residential care settings have not forgotten what lockdown and isolation feel like. So many lost ground during that period, both due to the ongoing process of aging and disconnection from family and friends.
There is no question that life is returning to “normal” for our elders. Like buds peeking out in the early spring, we have begun to emerge, going out on special outings, spending more time with family, socializing more freely. Despite the years we won’t get back, recovery feels closer at hand.
For those who work in long term care, the recovery is slower and more complex. Those who worked through the difficult days of this pandemic have yet to fully let go of the anxiety that was a constant companion. They have not moved past the unsettling knowledge that not everything had answers or solutions and that help was not available. There is a level of profound exhaustion that cannot be resolved by getting more sleep or taking a day off.
What matters most, I think, as all of us fight our way back, is that we give ourselves and each other a little grace and a lot of understanding. There is no shame and there should be no stigma when individuals need support and/or professional help. Sometimes “just get over it” is not the answer and that is okay. In fact, acknowledging that you can’t just brush past the trauma is the first step in the healing process.
We all face troubled waters and troubled minds at various times in our lives. We all face trauma, battle anxiety and wrestle with exhaustion. The bridges we need to find, the bridges we need to build come both from within and from one another. May we all reach out to understand, support and accept and together, extending a hand as a bridge to move us forward.