Many seniors I’ve talked to over the past couple of months have been struggling with the self-isolating part of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those comfortable in their routine of eating, dancing and hanging out at their neighbourhood senior activity centre, playing cards twice a week with the gang, big Sunday dinners with the extended family, morning coffee with one group, evening drinks with another and regular trips to the mall, the library and the swimming pool have had their world yanked out from beneath their feet.
Loneliness and boredom are real contributors to mental health problems, particularly for the young and the old with normally full social calendars involving family, friends and acquaintances.
I’m very fortunate to have two living parents, healthy and active in their 70s. In normal times, they are busy in their Kelowna retirement complex, where they live independently. Both volunteer regularly and engage in many social functions, both within and outside of the facility. Up until mid-March, my 74-year-old dad still worked 25 hours a week at the contractors gate at a major building supply centre because he enjoyed the social interaction, the physical activity, the pocket money and the routine.
I was so worried about them at the start of the pandemic, both because of their age and how hard COVID-19 was hitting seniors residences, but it turns out they were more concerned with us and how we were doing.
When everything changed, my parents adapted without missing a beat. My mom, who struggles with minor bronchial issues, rarely left their apartment suite except for trips to the grocery store down the street first thing in the morning when necessary and walks with dad around the neighbourhood. Along with the walks, Dad kept up his usual maintenance projects (there's always something to fix or improve or modify).
Mom has her various crafty hobbies. Dad likes to fix things. Both are avid readers. Both of them are technically savvy so mom regularly retreats to her den to check in on friends and family on Facebook while dad is in the living room with his tablet, following the news and Facetiming family and friends near and far.
Their childhoods, as well as another period together as adults, were spent in isolation so having the technology to stay in touch while also amuse and entertain is a bonus.
They both grew up on small family farms in that French-speaking rural pocket of Northern Alberta that lies east of Grande Prairie and south of Peace River with only the radio as their sole connection to the outside world for much of their childhood.
After my sister and I were grown and out of the house for good, my parents headed to the high Arctic for 10 years, working in Tuktoyaktuk and Norman Wells. During that decade, they endured weeks without sun at Christmas and weeks of endless sun in June and July, as well as the confinement of living in remote villages with less than 1,000 other people and extremely limited options for shopping and entertainment.
When the pandemic hit, my parents simply retreated back to a form of isolation they were both familiar and comfortable with. They knew how to structure their lives to take charge of what was happening, rather than be victims. Each day, they kept busy, exercised, stayed connected, remained informed, ate healthy, slept well and provided help and comfort to others while staying safe for themselves and their neighbours.
My parents impress and inspire me with their attitude, their adaptability and their resilience.
For me, the pandemic has been a chance to take a step back and refocus on the people in my life that I am truly grateful are by my side. Although I haven’t lived in the same community as them for nearly 35 years, my parents continue to be excellent role models.
If that’s not good fortune, I don’t know what is.