How one Skagit woman stays connected while practicing social distancing
Only weeks ago many Skagit seniors were thriving. 2020 was going to be a good year. They were living comfortably and independently – in their own homes, apartments and retirement communities. Folks were savoring time with grandkids. Pick out any health club and you would find retiree regulars filling the morning workout shifts. They were dominating the treadmills, sweating out spinning classes, counting laps in the pool. Ukulele classes were overflowing at our senior centers. Couples were traveling the world. Seniors formed a huge volunteer force, helping those in need throughout Skagit. For example, almost all local Meals on Wheels drivers met the age requirement for the program’s clients they were serving.
Things changed abruptly. Everyone 60 years of age or above suddenly found they were in a new club no one wanted to join – high risk from COVID-19. Skagitonians long ago learned to be resilient in hard times, and people with a few more years under their belts have more experience dealing with life’s challenges. But over the last week, there was a new tone in people’s voices, a new strain in their words.
I sensed a similar tone when I spoke with Toni. Toni is a resident of a senior living community in Mount Vernon. She diligently follows social distancing. During our phone interview, Toni mentioned on several occasions that she has had to postpone or cancel her weekly activities. This break with the things she enjoys and values in her daily life has caused “a rollercoaster” of emotions.
Health officials urge people over 60 to stay home and stay healthy. Whenever possible, seniors are being asked to refrain from routine errands and even keep away from grandchildren. This is no easy task! Seniors who are used to being self-sufficient still rely on their time with family and friends for connection and community.
Toni has worked out a plan for social distancing. She stays connected to the outside world through social media and by phone. She keeps informed of current events by reading the news. She frequently mentioned how grateful she is to have children (and adult grandchildren) living nearby who bring her groceries and run important errands. She has considering taking advantage of grocery drop-off services.
But even with the love of family, she struggles finding what she calls the “patience to hang in there.” She laughed about the situation, continuing to find a lighthearted tone. But like many seniors, the well-being of family weighs on her mind. She can’t help feeling anxious for her children and grandchildren. “What’s this going to do for their livelihoods and their children? What’s their lifestyle going to be like? Will they have to go through a recession?”
Toni has found ways to minimize feelings of loneliness and anxiety. She takes daily walks. She checks in with family and friends regularly. For example, on the day we spoke she had just gotten off a call with her granddaughter and felt uplifted.
“I was excited about the FaceTime. So I got up, showered, got dressed, put my makeup on and acted like I was going to leave the house and go downtown shopping, or something. I wasn’t going anywhere, but I felt better. And I had something I was looking forward to.”
There are days when Toni doesn’t have something to break up the monotony. During these low moments, Toni relies on her faith and the support of her church, where she works as a deacon
“Some days I don’t have something I look forward to, so I just as soon stay in bed. So I stay in pajamas most of the day…or all day. It depends. Some days are better than others in regards to feeling on top of things. There are days when I just don’t want to do anything, so I just don’t. I’ll read or watch TV.”
We all struggle with COVID-19 and social distancing. Toni has identified ways of keeping engaged with family, friends and other community groups through video chat and social media. While taking walks around her neighborhood, she enjoys conversation from a distance with friends. However, many seniors lack the opportunity to do the same.
Skagit County has been working hard to provide services to our seniors in need during this time, especially to maintain access to nutritious meals!
- Meals on Wheels: The Skagit County Meals on Wheels program is busier than ever! People 60 years or older who have barriers to preparing meals can contact (360) 416-1500 for more information.
- Frozen meal pick-up: Even though senior centers are temporarily closed, frozen meals are available for pick up. Call your local senior center below for details.
- Mount Vernon Senior Center, 360-416-1585, Kristl Hobbs or Nickie McNulty
- Sedro-Woolley Senior Center, 360-855-1531, Ellen Schweigert or Merrilee Komboukos
- Burlington Senior Center, 360-755-0942 or 360-755-0102, Jackie Cress or Cheryl Kaufman
- Anacortes Senior Activity Center, 360-293-7473, Amanda Miller or Annette Saling
This is the time to reach out, whether you are a senior or a loved one of a senior. People are often saddened and depressed by the narrowing of their lifestyle and anxious about the impact COVID-19 is having on our world. Talking and laughing can be one of the best ways to cope with the pandemic.
There are also creative ways to deal with loneliness and anxiety that you can find online! Websites like AARP have great guides for seniors and their family members, like “7 Ways to Boost Your Loved One’s Morale During the Coronavirus Epidemic,” which lists things like virtual dinners, and book clubs as helpful boredom-busters.
Want more information about resources Skagit County has seniors? Watch the Senior episode of Conversations COVID-19 with Public Health Director, Jennifer Johnson and Senior Services Manager, Renee Corcoran.