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senior living illinois

What I’ve Learned from Covid-19

I don’t know about you, but for me, this whole coronavirus thing has been…weird. 

As humans, we are wired to try and make sense of things, so I have no doubt I am not the only one sitting at home having what sometimes feels like really profound “a-ha” moments; nor will I claim to be the only person out there to come to these conclusions, but I do want to share them with you still.

In conversation today, I made a comment along the lines of “well it’s been six weeks now and…” and was gently reminded… it’s been ten.  Ten weeks us Illinoisans have been on a “stay-at-home” order.  While I do consider myself to be a home-body…ten weeks is a LOT of time.

Different ups and downs have presented across the masses – the work from home roller coaster that is one minute amazing that you get to wear sweats, video chat from the bathroom, or eat a leftover pork-chop for breakfast with your bare hands and no shame -to the frustrations both big and small of not being able to walk to your neighbors cubicle to get a question you have answered, missing your annual review (which may or may not come with a bonus or pay increase you have been counting on), lacking the technology or motivation to complete things that, on a typical day in the office, feels like a breeze.  

Teachers mastering the beasts that are e-learning platforms overnight. Parents having to learn the ins-and-outs of said platform with children standing idly by.  Having multiple children on a broad or even not so broad age spectrum, meaning you have to somehow morph into four different people in order to keep everyone on task. Tack on the anxiety for many of the catch-22 that is needing an extra set of hands, but knowing to ask for such would put multiple people you love at potential risk.

Moments of motivational self reflection regarding your lifestyle or personal habits – I should exercise more (or at all), restructuring your budget, or organizing and cleaning so intently Marie Kondo will ask you for your autograph should she ever pass you on the street.  Giving yourself permission to lean into the eeriness of the world by finishing “Tiger King” in one sitting, googling “coronavirus case count near me” and feeling your stomach drop when you see that the numbers have changed so drastically since you last checked it just an hour before. Your animals being super confused by your presence – dogs pumped about multiple walks a day, cats wanting to nap but can’t with you incessantly waving toys in their face, turtles…still being turtles?  All the people who are without income, the front line and essential health care workers – I can’t even go there; attempting to describe what this experience has been for them, I will simply never do it justice.

I have come to realize through all this that it turns out, there is very little that I need.  Do I LOVE a grande frappuccino and some egg bites to eat on my way to the office, heck yes.  Do I really enjoy rewarding myself for ‘getting a great deal’ by aimlessly wandering the aisles of Target, absolutely.  But I am surviving without it.  I’m not *great* at painting my own nails, but I do seem to have moderately improved since I was 5, and yes, I daydream about the day I can, under the cloak of darkness, once again inhale a large Cheetos popcorn in a recliner at the movie theater. The list of all the normal things that would feel good to do again is a mile long. Please don’t misunderstand me here, my heart truly goes out to all business, services and trades, and  I will one day reclaim my role as a loyal, in-person, supporter, just with a slightly different mindset.  My point right now is just about my what I’ve come to realize my heart and soul need, and what they NEED is to be able to touch my niece when I see her growing up so fast from a distance, to hand my best friends kid his birthday present instead of honking and waving from the car, to hug someone, to hug anyone. 

A friend of mine told me through all this we’re all in the same storm, just different boats. I’ve talked with people about my need, and their need, for human connection – it’s not that we weren’t having similar personal conversations before all this, but the mutual vulnerability is somehow now different, amplified, raw.  I’ve considered how my experience differs from my friends or my neighbors, anyone and everyone, and I’ll admit, I have had moments of empathetic defeat. We all just want to interact with people that we love, and right now we aren’t able to. Somewhere in there among considering the different families and situations across the board I realized, this could be how some of the elderly feel – virus or no virus – when nobody visits. How maybe you’ve felt during this time – lonely, bored, isolated, alone – this challenging, draining, sad, stressful time for us may just be another day in the life for them; and that realization is heartbreaking.

Shepherd has been really fortunate that our model has allowed for easy and safe family window visits.  All of our homes have the technology and ability to zoom, FaceTime, or make a traditional phone call; where large facilities with multiple floors and a high resident count don’t always have the luxury of these means of connection.  In a time where the only people residents get to see are the essential workers, our 1 to 5 care ratio has never mattered more.  These window visits and other forms of communication are good, supplemental interactions given the circumstances.  Many Assisted Living doors have been on lock-down since the beginning which means some seniors have been, for ten weeks, missing their weekly visit with their daughter or their monthly lunch with the grand-kids; but for others, literally nothing has changed. Regardless of the Assisted Living model – Big Box or Boutique – or even if your loved one is still living independently in their home, this is how they feel when we just can’t seem to find the time to make it out there this week but “swear we will soon” over and over….  They stopped expecting the phone or doorbell to ring long before the pandemic. 

As this Covid-19 situation continues to evolve, I hope we do too.  I’m hopeful I will think twice before I decline plans just because I “don’t feel like” being social.  That I will make an effort to do the things today that I might have thought, just ten weeks ago, could wait another day.  I hope we can learn to navigate this new normal together, holding each other a little closer, giving our undivided attention to one another, checking in more often, and valuing and prioritizing the time we spend with loved ones with a renewed energy and grateful hearts.

Thanks for reading, and I truly hope to see you soon.

Maureen Beske, Activities Director