In early November, the Carroll County Times printed an article about older adults, who, though physically vulnerable, have psychological resilience to pandemic trauma because of their lifetime’s worth of experiences that help them cope and adapt behaviors. The article recounted various studies showing that stress was higher among those 55 to 64 years old than among those 75 and older, leading to the conclusion that older folks are more capable of weathering the pandemic. However, that article also expressed the point that the longer this pandemic endures the greater the adverse effect on physical and mental health for all ages. Stress, anxiety and depression, and loneliness have been the key factors affecting the health and well-being of older adults.
I decided to ask some Carroll Lutheran Village friends in November and December how they were coping and what strengths they were drawing on to manage stress and loneliness and their attendant psychological impacts. I expected the answers to revolve around those similar to the article’s findings: “reaching out to family and friends, pursuing hobbies, exercising, participating in faith communities,” all while trying to stay safe from the coronavirus. And indeed, that was the case but with unique perspectives.
Bob and Marie, the first people I talked to, set a tone that was inspiring. They said they were doing well because they have each other. Even though they feel disconnected from their church family and they have sorely missed their children and grandchildren, they use FaceTime to keep in touch. While Thanksgiving and Christmas were most stressful without family, they asked another couple in their apartment building to join them. Instead of wasting this down time Marie has continued to read and has even taken up a new hobby of knitting. They both took some time to reflect and get legal matters and end-of-life planning finalized. They now know what hymns will be sung at their funerals!
Faith is an important part of Barbara’s life. Having recently overcome a major health crisis, she is walking a lot and thinking about God – “God is great and in charge and will take care of me.” She relies on her faith in God and knows that “He is with me.” She would also like to rely on people acting smart by wearing masks and social distancing. Besides walking she participates in all the exercise classes offered at the Village via the television. Although she intended to be “home alone” for Thanksgiving, she told her family that they can eat together with FaceTime, an invention that makes this down-time so great for communicating with her family and particularly her two little great-grandchildren!
Another single individual, Carl, had been playing golf twice a week even into the colder days of November. Growing tomatoes in his garden plot kept him busy through the growing season. He figures that he can watch more television as the weather gets colder, something he did not do much of during the warmer months. His big disappointment was having his Friday night bridge game shut down by the Village as the pandemic raged again. FaceTime also has given him the opportunity to talk with his children and their families – a daughter in Philadelphia and another in Baltimore and a son in Virginia. In fact, FaceTime with the daughter in Baltimore sufficed for Thanksgiving. Carl confessed that he “doesn’t let things bother me that I cannot control – I just roll with the punches.”
Another couple, Eloise and Bob, added still other dimensions to the conversation. When initially asked how they were faring during the pandemic their response was “Good enough!” In fact, Eloise said she had not felt any stress or anxiety. Perhaps Bob’s explanation can clarify her point. He said: “I already, along with my wife as companion and caretaker, had some practice with life restrictions, not uncommon for someone 86 years old. Major surgery a few years ago left me with some already limiting disabilities – even as I continue to improve – an unknowing practice for our COVID lock-down.” Bob even feels that “old age, though not always too thrilling in its own right, might be half a blessing in disguise during COVID.” He still engages in walks, chatting with neighbors, phone calls and e-mails, all designed to “keep a social context.” Having found time during the restrictions, Eloise kept up with basic housekeeping while also making herself do the “little, nagging jobs I’d rather neglect” but for which there was time now. She budgeted minimal social contacts, but “those treasured trips out for must-do shopping feel unhurriedly time-consuming and fulfilling.”
Bob has found time to cull through books, papers, family pictures that have been stored away for so long waiting to be rediscovered but “begging to be revisited, reorganized, and perhaps given new life and new context by adding our own bio and new family information. … This is our best gift to family and ourselves, much beyond Thanksgiving and Christmas.” Hope for healing of this pandemic and the prospect of making up missed celebrations have bolstered Eloise through this down-time. And both of them say that donating to charities that help those suffering physically and emotionally during this pandemic has given them a sense of relevant helpfulness!
Although only six older people were interviewed, they provided much valuable insight into making life meaningful during this horrendous pandemic. First, don’t get too alarmed about things you cannot control; rather, work with what you can control. Second, continue doing many of the things you love and have always done to stimulate your mind and body – reading, working on projects and hobbies, walking and exercising, doing puzzles, playing games. Third, learn to adapt to and use new technologies, as well as the older ones, that will help you keep in touch with family and friends. Fourth, take time for reflection on important matters for the future; that is, making your history relevant and making your wishes known to family and future generations. Fifth, make your moments count, even if trivial, and do some good for others. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make a habit of cultivating a grateful mind and heart and acknowledge that your faith is important for sustaining you.
Hermine Saunders writes from Westminster. Her Prime column appears once a month in Life & Times.