By Michelle Arnwine Frias

We all imagined that in 2020 we would live our lives with reckless abandon, but to our dismay, we soon realized our habits would have to reflect the opposite. So, I slowed down my daily process, paid a little bit more attention to my daily routine, and assessed reality. I work as an office staff member at a senior home care agency. The day’s tasks involve answering calls, shuffling paperwork, and most importantly, cultivating a supportive environment where we are able to employ experienced caregivers to provide quality care to our senior clients.

I often pick up the phone in the office and speak to our clients. I greet them and offer my best encouraging voice, because more often than not, I am the only voice they will hear throughout the day. On rare occasions, I will speak to their families and comfort them with the words I often wish to hear — assurance that their loved ones remain healthy. I always ask how they’re doing, and they almost always respond with the habitual “good.” There may be truth in their response — the relief of knowing that we are doing the best we can for their loved one — but I often wonder if their response may be masking their own distressed lives.

In times of need, I cover shifts when a caregiver is unable to. One client of mine, who is often withdrawn, will sometimes look out his dining room window and watch the snow fall. He will sit in his best chair, close his eyes, and listen to Harry Cornick, Jr. on his stereo system. It’s hard to imagine that the walls of his home, although decorated with tailored ancestral décor from past travels, will encompass the only sightseeing he’ll experience all year. Fortunately, he still has the company of his wife.

Then, there are clients in care facilities who are deprived of visitors due to facility guidelines. Family members and friends are not permitted to enter, so our caregivers try to fulfill what is missing in their lives. That can mean a variety of things, depending on their individual needs. It takes compassionate and respectful caregivers to fill that role — individuals for whom I hold the utmost respect.

If you are taking care of an elderly family member in your life, I offer these simple activities that, if completed safely in keeping with COVID 19 precautions, may bring comfort to you both and help restore your spirits:

  1. Cook a favorite meal or have a meal delivered that you know would lift the spirits.
  2. Write a letter to family and friends, a genuine one, full of your sincerest thoughts. Then, write another.
  3. Go for a short walk or a short drive through town to ease your souls.
  4. Host a virtual watch party with family or friends. Watch and chat about your favorite movie.
  5. Set up weekly video calls with friends and family. 

If you’re granted the opportunity to help any lonely person, but especially the elderly, reach out to them safely. It should not feel forced, but rather should arise from empathy beyond the motivation of just doing good and being good.  Seek to understand the reality of their lives.

If you are someone who is in need of comfort, tread slowly when needed. Take that short walk or drive on a quiet day. When cooking your favorite meal, you don’t necessarily need to reach for cuisine. A simple bowl of cereal may make you feel whole. Then, write a letter but not for someone else. Write one for yourself — about who you are now and where you’ll be tomorrow. Develop a connection with yourself and with others just as I have learned to cultivate a relationship with my elderly clients. You will slowly learn what your soul needs to be nourished. Everyone deserves a little light in this darkness.

Michelle Frias is a NAMI Washtenaw County volunteer, and writing is her passion. She  has a graduate degree in Creative Writing and hopes to pursue writing in various avenues while also being an advocate for mental health.

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