During a pandemic, hugging friends is what many seniors miss most

January 21, 2021

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While the wait for a safe vaccine for all looms large, the range of reactions to COVID-19 is as diverse as the people whose lives are affected. Some seniors in the community have lived in Tidewater all their lives. They’re married with children and grandchildren and have strong ties to the area.

For others, family is not a given. Some moved to the area immediately before the pandemic hit.

Isolation is the enemy of the people and does not discriminate.

Jill Grossman, program associate at United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, spends time with members of the JCC Book Club and the Seniors Club. Combating isolation is a universal challenge. “My time interacting with these groups is the best two hours of my month,” says Grossman. “They are feisty and so resilient. They read the books and have great discussions. I hear them say, ‘I just want to hug my friends,’ but hey, I can relate. I feel the same way.”

Since the pandemic hit, there have been several COVID-related deaths. One group lost a mother and daughter to the dreadful disease.

At Beth Sholom Village, where 95% of residents are seniors, families and residents range from feeling sad to a sense of gratitude that their loved ones are protected.

Marcia Brodie is director of marketing at BSV. “Our residents are incredibly resilient! Most of them have lived through things in their advanced years that are perhaps worse than this pandemic,” says Brodie, “Of course, they miss their families and getting out into the community, but they are very understanding for the most part. A family member might call me with a question about the vaccine.”

Brodie takes the time to say things like, ‘I see your dad every day and he is so delightful. I danced with him in the hallway.’ A small exchange is a game changer when loved ones are out of sight, not out of mind, she says. “A nurse is more than just a nurse. We’re always a lifeline, but it’s a different kind of lifeline.”

Brodie is not on the clinical staff, and like health care workers providing tech support to keep residents connected to their loved ones, she’s doing things she never did before.

“I am incredibly proud of our team during this unprecedented time. Our staff has always provided exceptional care. But since March, we have seen this group of committed employees go above and beyond,” says David Abraham, Beth Sholom Village CEO/EVP.

Depression is the by-product of isolation, loneliness, and the fear of getting ill. “Many seniors are geographically cut off from their loved ones and cannot travel. They’re also struggling with new technology and virtual visits with their MD’s, which is confusing and foreign to them. They all prefer in-person meetings,” says Debbie Mayer, JFS director of clinical, OAS and adoption services.

“Some of the seniors that we hear from, who live in nursing homes, feel as if they are in jail since they can only visit with their family through a glass window. Seniors that we serve through JFS’s Kosher Meals on Wheels program are also part of this group. Prior to the pandemic, our volunteers could go inside a senior’s home and visit with them. Now, our volunteers call from their own car and then drop the meals off outside their doors. The primary communication becomes a smile and a wave. This is still so important.”

The bright side—and there has to be a bright side—is that so many people have embraced technology and are enjoying events, discovering new activities and playing games online. Heavy hearts and fear come standard in a pandemic, but Grossman sees a silver lining. One of her book club ladies celebrated Hanukkah online this year with several members of her Israeli family, all of whom she had not seen for years in person.

- Lisa Richmon

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