United, Not in Location, But in Spirit.
Kingsway Arms Nursing and Rehabilitation Center temporarily suspended visitation on March 10th due to an abundance of caution related to the coronavirus pandemic. Since that time, as the Director of Resident and Family Services, I have received numerous calls from family members asking me how our residents are doing. It’s an understandable question to ask. With no family members, personal companions or entertainers, closed dining rooms, masked caregivers, and 6’ distancing, it would make sense that the residents could be discouraged, depressed, scared, lonely or disheartened. Our residents at Kingsway Arms are “none of the above”. Since I am privileged to meet with the people who live here every day, I want to take this opportunity to remind you of exactly why the residents we serve have been called “The Greatest Generation”. Come with me as I walk through the hallways at Kingsway Arms...
Rachel, our Recreational Therapy Director, is holding “Hallway BINGO” on Central Park. The residents are lined up with six feet between them. They have over-the-bed tables in front of them and are listening attentively as she calls the numbers. They are laughing and paying close attention as each number is called. They aren’t complaining that the activity is not being held in the “normal” location, they are simply enjoying the moment (and hoping they’ll be the first one to get a whole row completed).
I enter the room of a seasoned veteran newsman. His television is turned to the news station. (No surprise there!) I put the amplifier on his ears so we can converse. Today is a good day. He talks about his time as a newscaster. He talks about “this virus” and the fact that “Italy is closed”. He wistfully expresses how he would have been “over there” if he was younger. He has seen it all. He stops his conversation to ask for “some tomato juice in a black cup and some more of that blueberry whipped cream pie”. When the items are brought in, his whole face lights up and he says, “Thank you so much. That’s wonderful. You girls do a great job here.” He finds joy in the little things and expresses appreciation.
A little further up the hallway, I go in the room of a delightful homemaker. Her life has been focused on taking care of other people and investing in the next generation. As I set up the iPad for her to FaceTime her daughter and grandsons, she giggles when she sees her own image as we wait for them to pick up. “Oh my, who would have thought?” When the call is answered, she continues to do what she’s always done. She is encouraging her grandchildren to work hard on their schoolwork. (She doesn’t know that the schools have all been closed in order to limit children’s potential exposure to the virus.) She asks about the upcoming mission trip her grandson is going on this summer. She is looking to the future and challenging them to be all that God created them to be, even if it is over an iPad instead of in-person. Thomas Kinkade’s “Bridge of Faith” picture hangs on her wall serving as a reminder of where her hope and strength are found.
I go around the corner to talk to a long-retired nurse. When she was a teenager, she worked on a floating hospital under the Brooklyn Bridge and served underprivileged youth. She frequently sings as she navigates through the corridors. Today, she smiles and converses easily, reminiscing with me about other times that presented challenges to the medical field. “There can be scary times but we always have to keep hope alive,” she tells me, “That’s how we get through. That’s what families need to know. There’s always hope.”
A few rooms away, I stop in to visit with a former secretary. Her children usually visit her daily so I wasn’t sure how she would be since they haven’t been able to come for some time. With her customary hospitality, perfectly applied lipstick and earrings in place, she smiles at me and invites me to sit down. She is looking through one of the magazines that her daughter left off at the facility for her. Even though her short-term memory is limited, she remembers that her children can’t visit right now because of “this illness”. She gestures to her magazine, smiles and says, “My daughter knows me well. She knows what I like to read.” As we talk about her family, she taps the phone in front of her and mentions that she calls all three of her children each day. She is cheerful and happily engages in conversation reminiscing with me about her career and her husband. As I prepare to leave the room, she says "These are terrible times, but you have to make the best of it. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help."
On the way to my office, I can’t help but be drawn in by the contagious smile and twinkling eyes of a former medical social worker who didn’t retire until the age of 89. Her ability to converse is minimal but her joy is almost palpable. She spent her whole life helping others. As I sit down to connect with her for a moment, her entire face crinkles and reveals laughter lines that can only etch their way onto the face of someone who has chosen to find delight in her everyday life. She is simply radiant. I can’t understand anything she is saying because of the progression of her dementia, but I know that she is enjoying the “conversation”. As I stand, to continue my journey, she clearly says, “I appreciate your visit.” I walk away with my heart warmed and tears in my eyes.
So, how are the residents at Kingsway Arms doing during this “global pandemic”? I can tell you from personal experience that, although their aged bodies may be weak and failing, the fabric of their character remains strong. Their minds may not be as sharp as they used to be, but their indestructible spirits are inspirational. The people who live at Kingsway Arms motivate us every day to join together, to do what we can, to think of others, to be thankful, and to take the time to express that gratitude to others. Thank you for entrusting your loved ones to our care. Thank you for sharing their stories with us. We appreciate your support as we all weather this storm together – united, not in location, but in spirit. We will make it through this time because the “Greatest Generation” is still showing us how.