June is the month for which I reflect on missing my mother, gone six years now. Words I never thought I would hear myself think, let alone say aloud; thank god both my parents are already deceased.
I have shared that sentiment with other friends who have lost their parents and with my siblings. Everyone has understood and agreed. No further explanation has been necessary.
These thoughts bring home the stark reality of long-term care homes during COVID. One is also reminded of how many in our communities and around the world have lost a loved one. Grieving is different these days. There are no funerals or wakes. Friends and family can only reach out virtually to participate in sharing the grief.
Both of my parents died in a long-term care facility in Ontario, Canada. Neither had an easy time of dying or of living in long-term care. It was a long period of guilt, worry, and sadness for all in my family.
When the images of family separated from someone in a nursing home appear on social media or the news, a bit of my heart breaks all over…I am right there in their sadness. They visit through windows or glass doors if they are able. For those with dementia, there is no way to explain why no one can visit, why no one has shown up to be by their side.
We already know that older adults are often untouched by human hands for long periods. Then we add COVID to this mix.
It was lonely enough for my parents without the company of those who cared for them. But during this pandemic, people have been forced into this situation and we have had to hope that the caregivers in the home can quiet fears and hold hands.
I think about how I would ever have made sense of all that is going on in our world at the moment; a virus that is deadly, racial strife, protests, unemployment and devastating economies.
The conversations I can envision make me smile and cringe at the same time.
My mother would never have understood how you could and would close church doors so right out of the gate that would have been a disbelief. She would have insisted on going directly to her church and seeing for herself that she could not actually walk through the doors. She was a tough one to convince of something that was not in her realm of truths.
This same woman, although mostly blind from macular degeneration and without a driver’s license, declared that she was fairly certain that in an emergency she could drive. To the question of ‘what would ever be an emergency that you would have to think about driving mom?’ she replied, “Well, getting to church for Mass for one thing.”
My father grew up without refrigeration and never worried about food being spoiled or past its prime. I don’t think he believed in germs, so a killer virus would not have been on his radar. He would have summed it up to ‘scare tactics’ and that we would all be fine to go about our business as before.
Although as law-abiding and proud citizens, they would have complied with the rules. I could always fall back on the explanation that our country leaders needed us following the protocols.
I follow a Facebook page of Canadians living in the United States. I was one of those people who drove back and forth to visit with my parents and act as their advocate over a ten-year period. Today, those who are in this position cannot so easily cross the border and they certainly cannot visit a nursing home even if they could enter the country.
I find it hard to fathom how anyone is managing all of these realities. It is why I am relieved to not have that heartache in my life now. It would not have been a way for anyone to spend his or her days. I never thought I would be grateful for these beloved parents of mine to no longer be of this earth.
In Canada, the military moved in to oversee the care in several nursing home facilities in Ontario and Quebec. The military’s report of these situations was made public and is nearly impossible to read about the neglect and suffering; a decades old problem made more evident by the pandemic.
COVID has made it clear much needs to be changed in our long-term care homes. Tragic that it took all this suffering for this change to be recognized and acted upon. Is it the silver lining? We can hope.
To those working in our homes, we say thank you a hundred times over. These people need to be paid like the heroes they have stepped up to be. They need support through training and they need recognition. They cannot fight this battle alone.
For all of those in our communities who have lost a loved one during these times – whether or not from the coronavirus – you have the hearts of many pouring out empathy and sorrow. To not have had the closure you wanted, to not have had friends and family put their arms around you in comfort, to not have been the person holding the hand of your loved one while they passed, we feel your pain. We understand your tears and heartache. We are sorry for your losses.
We strive to find good news stories to keep us hopeful and grateful. But we do not forget those who have suffered so much and want to have their loved ones remembered. We want good news but we acknowledge it is not all good news for many in our communities.
This past week it was announced that nursing homes could accept visitors with many protocols in place. These visits are for non COVID patients, take place outdoors, are regulated by appointment times, and dictate no physical contact. When Governor Baker was asked if he was going to visit his own father who is in a facility, it was a lovely moment where he expressed relief and happiness at having a chance to see his father. It was a moment of gratitude easily understood by all of us.
When times are able to return to a better ‘normal’ and if you have a loved one in a long-term care home and you have concerns about their care, Elder Services of Merrimack Valley-North Shore, have Ombudsman who work in the facilities as liaisons with the home, the family and the elder. Use this program if you need an advocate to help you.
We also have an Options counseling program with trained counselors to guide you through the maze of elder care and can help you sort out options for care.
We are still here for you. We may have limits on our services but we are still your best resource for your elder care needs. We are together in our fight against the virus and we are together in our grieving of all those we have lost.
Our Information and Referral Services department is available to assist our consumers, all professionals, and our community partner agencies during this Coronavirus crisis. Our dedicated staff is working remotely but nothing changes in the ways they can help.
To reach our Information and Referral Services Department in Danvers please call 978-750-4540; email firstname.lastname@example.org or make a web referral via our website at nselder.org/contact-us/referral-form/.
To reach our Information and Referral Services Department in Lawrence please call 978-683-7747 or email email@example.com.
Jayne Girodat is the Communications Specialist at Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore, Inc. Along with ten years in the position of Caregiver Support Specialist at another ASAP, Jayne was a long-distance caregiver to parents for the same amount of time. That experience serves as motivation to better understand the issues of aging and to engage people in conversations about those issues. Jayne’s background in teaching contributes to her appreciation of social media as a tool to educate readers on aging concerns. “I love asking people questions. Everyone likes to be heard. When you ask and then listen, you’ll find everyone has a story and some of those stories are gems. I think it is particularly important to hear the voices of our older adults. Those are the stories I really connect to and hope to bring to Elder Services’ audience.”