Press "Enter" to skip to content

Looking Back on 2020

Last updated on May 22, 2021

Today, as I sat down to write, my mind wandered. Thoughts of the past year brought back familiar and disturbing emotions. It’s crazy to think that just over a year ago, life was normal and we had no idea what was coming. Covid19 hit the world like a ton of bricks. We were flipped upside down and inside out and thrown helter-skelter. Forever changed. And it’s not over yet.

Reflections

Working as a memory care director, my first thought as news of the corona virus was reported was complete fear for my vulnerable residents living with dementia. What would the virus do to them? How could I protect them?

As more info became available, I felt sick to my stomach, angry, helpless, and sad. Listening to death reports day after day was depressing. Watching humans around the globe suffer in agony was overwhelming. Restrictions put in place to keep us safe took away choices and freedoms that most of us take for granted.

The worst hit by Covid19, in my mind, were the 17 residents living in my memory care community. They could sense something was terribly wrong even though staff and family refrained from sharing info. Already existing in a small room on a small hallway with doors and windows secured and limited access to outdoors, my resident’s links to the world were made ever smaller by the new virus. And when told family members and friends could no longer come into our facility to visit, the reality of something being wrong truly scared them.

One resident kept asking me about the “sick thingy” going on. Another wanted to watch the news, which we decided not to do, because hearing and seeing news stories would just increase confusion and anxiety. Groups of concerned residents would ask me to explain why the world was ending, why people wore masks, what was happening outside, and were they trapped forever. One man asked “Did I do something bad? Did I hurt someone?” I answered no. “Then why am I in prison?” he cried. “Please let me out or I’ll die.” We saw more tears, depression, and negative behaviors.

 

 

 

 

I could only hold a hand, give a hug, redirect the conversation, and promise I would stay with them no matter what happened. It was a tough time.

Fighting Back

To fight the feelings of uncertainty and dread, my staff and I increased our resolve to make life peaceful, happy, productive, and fun. For example, we covered the large wall in the dining room with butcher paper and created a summer scene with fabric, lace, crepe paper flowers, fringed green paper grass, and lots of little furry animals. Each day we added something new to our mural. We’d all admire it during meals. And speculate on what would be added tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I laminated 60 bright photos of birds and butterflies and hung them double-sided from the ceiling with thin ribbon. When the sunlight touched the laminate, the birds and butterflies seemed to come alive. The air vents made them dance. We decorated wheelchairs and walkers, made hats, and threw a party every chance we got. We ate more ice cream and chocolate than ever before. Told more jokes, and laughed. The mural project encouraged many reminiscing chats. It stayed up until Halloween because no one wanted it to be taken down.

 

 

 

 

 

Families, also feeling helpless and isolated, sent cards and pictures, recorded messages, and treats to stay connected. Zoom allowed us to attend family reunions, weddings, and a christening. A volunteer, who could no longer come once a week to play piano and sing favorite songs, spent hundreds of dollars on equipment then sent us hours of files of him talking to each resident, singing, and playing music. He asked the children in his neighborhood to join him in several episodes. We sang with Kurt throughout the day, hoping good memories attached to the songs and feelings of happiness would be infectious.

 

 

 

My staff worked long and exhausting shifts, always putting residents first. Caregivers left personal problems and worries away from the workplace. They didn’t complain or feel sorry for themselves. I am so proud and thankful for them!

Loss

Despite our best efforts–all the careful and strict rules of social distancing and isolation–Covid19 came into our community in late September 2020. I was grateful for all the days it had left us alone; but absolutely heartbroken that safety hadn’t lasted longer.

 

 

 

 

 

When our first resident became ill, the sadness and pain was horrible. All I could think was “this is the beginning of the end and I’m going to lose many of my sweet friends.” Covid19 spread through our small rooms and down our small hallway. We did all in our power, as a tight-knit community, to provide each person with tender care and reassurance that we would stay with and love them. Several caregivers became infected, so the remaining aids worked short-staffed shifts.

My heart ached for the residents dying without family and for the spouses, children and grandchildren who helplessly knew it and could do nothing. One of the special moments in this life is saying goodbye to a loved one. I witnessed multiple deaths without a last hug or kiss or “l love you” from those they loved most.

When you work day after week after month after year in dementia care, like I do, you become attached to your residents. And I consider them family. I love them and grieve for them. Still.

Four of our memory care friends died before Thanksgiving. One friend was Freddye, who was born in Belgium at the end of WWI. Her father had wanted a son named Freddie so much that she got the name anyway. He died in an accident when she was 5. Her mother never remarried, so she remained an only child. As a teen, Freddye lived through 4 years of German occupation. One day, she was roughly pulled off the bus, and while soldiers searched her purse and school bag, was held against a brick wall at riffle-point. She knew hunger, fatigue, fear, and destruction, but courageously survived the hardships of WW ll. Freddye met a good man who brought her to the United States. She and her husband raised 4 children. They traveled the world together, and she spoke 3 languages fluently. She was always positive and kind. Life was a gift to Freddye. My beautiful 98-year old friend died in October 2020 of Coronavirus. Freddye and I had a special friendship. I really miss her.

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t lost someone they love to Covid19.

Thankful Feelings

Despite the dark days and loss of close friends and loved ones, I am thankful today for the things I have learned this year. I am stronger, more resilient, and recognize how important my work with people living with dementia is. I’m grateful for the time and special relationships I had with Freddye and other residents who’ve gone. We aren’t out of the woods yet, but I feel confident good days are ahead.

I want to honor the healthcare workers everywhere, who continually go to work, put their own lives on the line, do their best, lift the spirits of others, and save lives. Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I want to honor the thousands of informal (family/friends/neighbors) caregivers who provide unselfish, unpaid hours of exceptional service to their loved ones with dementia. The families I work with are phenomenal, and I couldn’t do my job without their support. Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In conclusion, I honor and pray for anyone who is grieving the loss of someone taken by Covid19. Be brave and keep going–you are not alone.

~Tamara

6 Comments

  1. CogitoCogito

    Hi Tamara. Thank you for this important and inspiring post. Last year was difficult for all of us, but I can’t imagine how hard it was to older people isolated from their families. Its tragic how much we lost but at the same time its very inspiring seeing how dedicated all people form medical services were and how much good was in ordinary people helping each other every day. I hope the most difficult time is behind us, but we will never forget who we lost and we will always pray for them.

    • TamaraTamara

      Hi,

      Coronavirus certainly has given us all a jolt! I hope this year is better for you than the last.

      We’ve all learned some difficult but valuable lessons about life. I’m sad for those who lost loved ones. We can make the very best of our own situation to honor those who died. The health professionals every where are heroes in my eyes. 

      Your comments are stated very well. Thank you

      Tamara

  2. AnnAnn

    2020 brings us mixed feelings. On one hand, it has take away some of our loved ones. But on the other hand we’re grateful to have been able to conserve other very close family members. I know we have been hit in so many ways. Economically has been one of the most commented ways. But we have also been hit emotionally. We have come back stronger and tougher.

    • TamaraTamara

      Hi Ann,

      2021 will hopefully be a much better year for most of us. I was just online checking cabin availability for a family reunion I’m planning this summer. It’s been 2 years since my whole family got together, and we are really excited to spend a week at a lake resort a few hours away. Activities like this can remind us to enjoy the time we have with loved ones and friends. And not take anything for granted. 

      Thanks for visiting and commenting. 

      Tamara

  3. terryichingterryiching

    Tamara. What a deeply thoughtful post you wrote for all of us. I don’t think there is one person who hasn’t experienced the loss of loved ones or feelings of isolation. It’s been difficult to pick up where I left off before the pandemic. It feels so unimportant right now. I am more in need to reconnect with my family and friends again. To reflect on how life has changed and how it’s changed me.

    Your words had a healing effect on me. I was able to identify with your insights and suggestions, and they made me realize I am not alone. That others share the same feelings, thoughts and struggles as they try to reclaim their lives as well. It’s just I am not sure if I want to go back to the status quo before the pandemic. I have a lot to reflect on. Thanks for your touching post Tamara, it was impactful.

    • TamaraTamara

      I’m so glad you visited. Thanks for your comments. I sincerely hope you find a great path to follow going forward. Life is good. ~Tamara

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *