Missing those connections

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To the Editor:

For the past week, I had been struggling to keep it together and mostly succeeding at being professional and science based in my planning for the COVID-19.  My mantra at the morning staff meeting has been NO talking about COVID-19 with our clients. So the staff meetings were brimming with only that, just to get it off our collective chests before clients arrived.  

As supervisor for the Supportive Day Program at the MV Center for Living (MVC4L) my vocation is to provide, with an excellent staff and fabulously talented Island contributors, the best possible program for our clients who live with many disabilities, some isolation and varied levels of memory impairment.  But everyone is different, some live independently, some live with loving families and some have in-home caregivers who keep the household humming. So my crying as the final van pulled away from our building tucked away in Vineyard Haven on an overcast Friday afternoon, was a little surprising after a big week of doing the right thing.  

Our clients, more than half in their 80’s, come to us for so many reasons, some of which are to create art, sing together, reluctantly exercise, and be purposeful but mostly they come to us for kindness and understanding. We are facilitators that help them finish their sentences, listen to the third telling of very tall tales, or believe that even though you are 85 you will still see your mother at supper and she will have made your favorite meal. It is lasagna.   

We zip jackets and we cut up food.  We remind our clients to drink water to stay hydrated. We distract away the bad thoughts, encourage friendships with careful seating arrangements, and change the subject (or redirect) to focus on the nice things.  What we do is we make the best day.  

We have big family style meals where we celebrate everyone’s birthday with the most decadently iced cakes we can make.  We moved to cupcakes two weeks ago so blowing out the candles doesn’t spread anything but joy. The hugs, oh dear were replaced with Namaste hands or the elbow greeting.  But then it became crystal clear, the clients and staff at the MVC4L are the polar opposites of social distance. We get close so we can hear, so we can understand, so that we can convey our care for these amazing people who through no fault of their own, need more help than they anticipated at this point in their lives. We know that being direct and positive and physically close helps with the best day.  We believe that through our close proximity, big smiles and warm words make the day feel better too.   

We also work in our own little bubble.  We don’t watch television at the MV Center for Living.  We like to read the paper but stick to the nature stories, garden reports, and high school success items.  Yes, we nod to each other, “this community is so generous to every generation.” But really for six hours a day, our clients receive an earnest person centered care plan  — we meet them where they are. The staff at MV Center for Living Supportive Day Program is skilled at this. We work at being better everyday and we are proud of what we do.  Our little program serves over 25 Island households and is an oasis for people living with some of type of age-acquired disability. What you know after a bit is that we all have our strengths and our limitations but we all carry the same hope, even with a faulty memory, that we can live better lives.  

So as we Island folks self isolate let us make the goal of the day to just be the best day.  What we do know about memory disability is that we don’t know the past well, we can’t plan for the future, but we can live now.   

It is everyone’s job to help ourselves and the people around us stay calm, remind ourselves to breathe and find joy.  That may require tricking yourself with news limits, having a phone chat with a friend to listen to their very tall tales, appreciating music and singing along.  And if it is your birthday over this ‘social distance’ period, take that packaged cookie, put a pretend candle on it and sing happy birthday loudly, because we while we may not be with you, we will certainly feel the joy you bring to the world. 
Know that we are still answering the phone at the Center for Living 508-939-9440, Monday-Friday, 8:30-4:30, leave a message if we miss you.  Or send an email to maryh@mvcenter4living.org and we can help with care, resources and support for any elder and their family in the community.  

Be well my friends, 

 

Mary Holmes

MV Center for Living