Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives 2021–#Family – Life During Lockdown – My Mother’s Story by Melanie Stewart

2021 archives

Since this series began in January 2018 there have been over 1000 Posts from Your Archives where bloggers have taken the opportunity to share posts to a new audience… mine. The topics have ranged from travel, childhood, recipes, history, family and the most recent series was #PotLuck where I shared a random selection of different topics.

In this series I have shared posts from the last six months of 2020 and the series is now closed to new participants.

This is the first post from July 2020 by Melanie Stewart and she shares her mother’s experiences living in a senior residential facility and the challenges

Life During Lockdown – My Mother’s Story

Like so many of us who have elderly parents living in senior residential facilities, my 89-year-old mother Ginny has been on lockdown since mid-March because of the Corona virus.  This status has remained unchanged for an unprecedented 19 weeks. Since I have shared many of her stories here, I thought I would give an inside account on life during lockdown.

Ginny had only moved into the Independent living area of this facility in late October, so she passed the beginning weeks locating all three libraries in the two buildings and learning the checkout system. She enjoys reporting to me her newest “find” from the bookshelves. She also discovered that she likes walking out to the pool area and sitting, although she won’t go in the water. I am grateful that she has some freedom to take these daily walks. She is required to wear a mask.

Once management created a safe system for family and friends to “drop-off” items, my sister Hailey started to arrive every ten days or so with a load of groceries, and Ginny loves that. She stands in the lobby, waving madly while the guard sprays the exterior of the bags Hailey has placed on a table just outside the entrance. If Ginny gets too close, the guard gently extends his arm out as a reminder. During a recent phone call, she and I shared a good laugh when I joked “what would they do if you tried to make a run for it?” After the bags have moved through “customs”, mom is given a shopping cart and takes her delivery upstairs.

With no communal dining (they deliver food directly to the residents twice a day) mom has missed that social interaction. Sometimes she will walk to the front desk to “ask” a question, but we suspect it’s a way to get a conversation started. The staff is always polite. They probably receive a lot of “questions” a day. Sadly, one day a woman approached requesting if a staff car could please take her to her hair salon, her hair was “a mess”, and when she was kindly told “no”, she burst into tears. Interestingly, not long after that, they cautiously opened up the beauty salon for one day and took appointments.

Clearly, management is fighting a conflict on two fronts which is daunting. They must keep the virus out of their buildings and they must keep up the spirits of their residents. In terms of the virus, additional measures include checking the temperatures of their staff and screening them for symptoms before each shift. All employees must wear masks and gloves. As mandated by the state, their staff is tested for COVID every two weeks.

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It was after one of these tests recently that a result came back positive.  The staff member works in the Memory Care section of the facility. Appropriately, they moved forward to test every resident in that section. So far, all results have been negative. Some of the tests for staff are still pending.

I feel their safety protocols have been effective.  To me, 19 weeks is an extraordinary amount of time in keeping the contagious COVID out of such a large complex. But I do have fears. I have heard the stories of nursing homes where once the virus arrives, it can spread quickly in a closed environment. And I would be naïve to think that another case won’t appear inside the retirement home, especially since cases have been rising exponentially in Florida. It is reassuring that they just completed a deep cleaning of the facility because of that one positive test result.

And as the start of week 20 approaches, how does the company keep up the spirits of their residents? First, they continue to provide small, frequent surprises. For instance, mom may hear a knock on the door, and someone is delivering a small chocolate treat or a pastry. Or, she may open the door to someone with a cart asking whether she would like a cocktail. Or, she may find a cheery note stuck on her door when she opens it. And of course, they are always willing to set up the popular “tablet virtual visit” between a resident and a family member.

They have also allowed a certain number of doctor visits. Ginny needed her Prolia shot (for osteoporosis) which is administered every six months. This is a two-step process where she needs a blood test first and then she returns a week later for the shot. Hailey was able to schedule “rides” for Ginny where the resident is driven by a staff member. Mom was almost giddy after those outings, so a side benefit is the psychological boost they experience when they get to leave, if only for a while.

During my last phone call, she told me that a supervisor had distributed a sheet of paper with the heading What I will Do When Things Return to Normal. Residents are encouraged to write down the things they want to see and do. Maybe they will read off some of the responses on their intercom system as a “group” activity. As Ginny and I discussed how much she misses her own hairdresser, she said “Oh, I’m writing that down” and she did. She’s listening. She’s engaging.

Mom has been phenomenal in this trying time. She just seems to roll with it which amazes me.  Unfortunately, she is showing some naivete (or maybe just wishful thinking) in regards to her upcoming birthday. She thinks they may let her go to her hairdresser because it is a for a “special occasion.” Per their protocols, this won’t happen because they need 30 days of no new cases before they even consider moving to their “Recovering” step. She forgets, I think, that family members won’t see her hair up close on her special day.

And it is special. She is turning 90! I am very disappointed that my altered chemotherapy schedule now has me having my next round three days before her birthday. I won’t be able to drive the couple of hours to wave and show my support from a distance. But we will only delay the celebration just long enough so we can do it safely. Maybe she will add “celebrating 90” on her sheet of paper. What a long, strange 19 weeks it’s been.

©Melanie Stewart 2020

About Melanie Stewart

In the 1990’s, I worked as a freelance writer for a local newspaper in suburban Chicago. I covered everything from cloning & measuring the risk of heart disease to my “Day in the Life” series where I spent the day at local businesses ranging from a veterinarian to a bakery (that was an early wake-up call.)

A few years later, I started working for Legacy.com which hosts online obituaries for newspapers around the world. I loved that potential for connection; that someone sitting in an army base in Afghanistan could sign a guest book for a relative who passed in Illinois (true story.) I remained there for many years until my husband and I made the decision to move to Florida. Most of our family is here including my mother, who in recent years, has needed more assistance.

I missed writing, so I started to write about those every day situations that come with an aging parent. The volume of stories grew. Should you take away the car keys? When? The checkbook? How? How do you navigate their determination to remain independent?

The stories evolved into the blog Leaving The Door Open which officially launched April 29, 2019 as a way to share how both my family and readers have solved these aging parent issues.

And just as the blog was attracting more attention, I was diagnosed with cancer. I found myself writing about that. Then, COVID struck our world.

I will continue to stick with non-fiction as it informs and shows us the tough and triumphant realities people face, but it became evident that it was time to leave the door open to new ideas and broaden my writing to include feature stories and creative writing.

Don’t write me off as too serious though! I love to laugh, relish a good pun, and love watching a good scary movie and baseball. I just have this thing about writing about the realities of life. It’s my passion. I think I remain a reporter at heart and I only want to cover more ground.

I am also widely open to writing or sharing the realities of your life. If you would like to share a guest post on just about any topic, or be “interviewed” through written questions, contact me at shareastory@leavingthedooropen.com.

Connect to Melanie: Blog: Leaving the Door OpenTwitter: @storiesonaging

My thanks to Melanie for permitting me to delve into her archives and I hope you will head over to discover more of her posts..Thanks Sally.

40 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives 2021–#Family – Life During Lockdown – My Mother’s Story by Melanie Stewart

  1. I love Melanie’s stirrings, and that she shares what’s going on with seniors in homes trying to cope with this dystopian world we are living in. I can only imagine the loneliness so many endure as I seem to be living in eternal lockdown, especially after losing my husband recently, just makes the loneliness excruciating. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for sharing this article Sally. Melanie what a difficult time to be separated and navigating serious health issues on top of all that separation has brought. My care to you, and hopes that your mother’s 90th birthday will soon be celebrated in the fashion you both need and want.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I was tempted to ask Melanie where her mother lives as it sounds identical to the experience my parents had over the last year. It was hard, but the place kept my parents safe, and for that I’m grateful. The chocolates and cocktail delivery… what a sweet treat to help keep the spirits up. A great share, Melanie and Sally.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Diana. 🙂 Were your parents on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida? My mom was in the Clearwater/Tampa area. I love hearing from someone who has parents in the same situation! My sister and I spoke frequently about how grateful we were that mom was safe so I completely understand your feelings. In our minds, she was in the best possible place; a place where they understood and could address the needs of seniors. Thank you so much Diana for your comment!

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  4. I really enjoyed this, Sally and Melanie. It sounds lie a really good care facility – wish they were all like that. I totally understand what Melanie says in the About section about being a reporter at heart and writing non-fiction as it informs. I was taught reporting should provide ‘news you can use’.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Melanie’s post articulates one of the most challenging aspects of COVID. Certainly, the loss of life in these facilities gets plenty of attention, deservedly so. Still, the day-to-day challenges that the residents, their families, and the caregivers themselves face trying to provide the care needed, is an underappreciated effect.

    My mom is no longer alive, but she spent the last five years of her life in an assisted living center, eventually ending up on the memory care side of the facility. Mixed up in all of the chaos are special caregivers trying to make our family members’ lives as normal as they can be in such an unfamiliar situation. This is not to say that some places have failed this challenge. I feel like our society has not come to grips with the huge problem that caring for our elderly presents. It is an impossible situation, even in the best circumstances, let alone during a pandemic.

    Melanie’s excellent post highlights many of those challenges.

    Liked by 2 people

    • After reading your comment Pete, it honestly makes me feel like I need to speak to a caregiver in this type of facility to give them an opportunity to share their challenges. It is a whole different perspective to consider. Thank you for that. And I learned something rather shocking recently. We were signing in within the hallway to see my mom (and get out temps taken) when they announced that two more residents had Covid. I asked “how can this be with everyone vaccinated at this point” and the person replied “not every resident agreed to get the shot.” This was a huge (and concerning) surprise. So, add “performing daily long-term precautions to stay safe on the job” for these special caregivers. In other countries, seniors will often live out their days with their adult children, but that isn’t the case here. So more space and money and special training is going to be needed! You make many excellent points. And thank you for your kindness regarding my story. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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