Imagine being 74 and sitting in your home and reading that another five people in your age group died from COVID that morning. No one younger than you died that day. This makes you think about this time last year when you were hospitalized. I wonder if my condition makes me more likely to get the virus? Imagine being unable to drive or walk more than a few steps because your mobility has gotten worse and sadly, your husband has passed and your kids have grown so it’s just you at home.
The picture I’ve painted is of my Mom. She’s far more than these things I’ve mentioned, but these have been some of the weights in her life through COVID. Every elder and every family has a different situation, so it’s difficult to have a list that applies to everyone, but as myself and my brothers have tried our very best to support my Mom through COVID, I wanted to share what we’ve learned along the way.
MAKE THE HOME A GREAT BEST PLACE TO BE
Since my Mom can’t get out herself and has trouble using technology, we’ve done our best to set up her space. She loves reading the classic daily newspaper so we ensure that stays up to date. She also loves the Temptations and Diana Ross, so we got her a remote that responds to voice commands from our cable provider, Shaw, at no charge, and showed her how to use the remote to access her favourite music. We also called her cable provider and added Netflix to her setup. She can also access Netflix using voice activation, and we also did a few remote-control lessons to get her used to the new setup. Her review: Netflix is way better than cable.
MAKE TECHNOLOGY USER-FRIENDLY
My Mom always says that she wishes she grew up in the digital age so she could find her way around an iPad, iPhone and computer more easily. She decided she wanted to backtrack from a laptop to something easier, so my brother gave her his iPhone when he upgraded. We started with just two apps, one was What’s App so she can text him easily overseas. The second was Insight Timer, a free daily meditation app. Meditation has been an extraordinary help for me to deal with the stress of life. I introduced my Mom to meditation using this app, but since I couldn’t be with her during the full lockdown, I added this to her new device and made a list of our favourites. So, all she has to do is press the Insight Timer icon and then the heart icon and her favourites are right there. She has found meditation to be a huge help through COVID and doing it once a day for even five minutes makes a world of difference to her mental health and peace of mind. Here is one of her favourites from the app called Morning Ritual by Jason McGrice. If you or your elders haven’t tried meditation in the past, here is a list of the ways it reduces stress and anxiety from author and peace advocate, Deepak Chopra.
COMMUNICATE OFTEN + BE HONEST
With a code red now in place, I am her one caregiver contact, so thankfully I can visit her in person. In March when I couldn’t see her for weeks, I promised to call her every day to check-in. A few weeks into the lockdown, I wasn’t feeling my best and was burning out on a few fronts so I called my brother and asked if he could check-in for a few days while I got some rest. On another occasion, I was totally exhausted after a long week at work and called to say I was really tired and would she mind if I called her the next day to catch up. She told me to take as much time to rest as I needed over the weekend and call her on Monday. Moral of the story: keep the lines of communication open and be honest with each other about how you’re both doing. It will help both of you feel cared for and it will also avoid any feelings of resentment.
TALK ABOUT MORE THAN THE NEWS + THE WEATHER
With every day feeling like Groundhog Day and news stress at an all-time high, our chats started to feel a bit like reruns. I know my Mom loves to talk about stories from when my brothers and I were little, vacations we took, and stories about her life growing up. As she is not overly stimulated staying at home and has little contact most days, these trips down memory lane lift her spirits and help her to stay cognitively sharp. Venture into subjects and topics that you may not chat about every day and share laughs and stories from the majestic time before.
When you’re living alone and there is zero traffic in your space, it can start to feel like the barometric pressure took a dip directly over your house. Living with and caring for plants can provide a real lift. As my Mom has trouble walking, I got her very easy-to-care-for plants that aren’t too thirsty so she doesn’t have to bring them a ton of water. So far, she has a snake plant, a golden pothos, a Christmas cactus and an aloe plant. She absolutely loves caring for them, fills me in when they sprout or flower, and attests to the plants raising the positive energy of her space.
ENCOURAGE REAL TALK
My Mom has a habit of telling me everything is ok, even when it’s not. We’ve determined it’s a mix of her wanting to convey strength as a parent and the “stiff-upper-lip upbringing” she had where you didn’t really talk about the tough stuff. You just processed it in solitude. Through the books we’ve read and real-life practice, we’ve learned that what the Mental Health Foundation in the UK states here is unequivocally true.
“Talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s part of taking charge of your well being and doing what you can to stay healthy. Talking can be a way to cope with a problem you’ve been carrying around in your head for a while. Just being listened to can help you feel supported and less alone. And it works both ways. If you open up, it might encourage others to do the same.”
And an inspirational story always gives a lift. Take Washington-based artist, Marilee Asher Shapiro, who beat the Spanish Flu in 1918, and COVID-19 at age 107. Marilee is on the road to recovery and determined to get back to her art studio. The story makes us smile and so does me telling my mother that I see the same strength and resilience in her.