By nature, I believe we as humans are caring and kind. We like to help and be there for others when they celebrate and when they go through tragedy. For example, we buy gifts when people have babies, get married, retire and reach other various milestones. And we bring food when others suffer the loss of a loved one or lose everything in a natural disaster. We sit close to those who are suffering from a terrible disease like cancer, in the midst of grief or going through a divorce. That’s how we love, comfort, support, and uplift

Loving and caring for others who continue to face many of life’s celebrations and trials has become difficult since the pandemic. Our hearts begin to hurt because of the weddings we miss and the families we can’t mourn alongside. We grieve over the showers we can’t attend and the relief efforts we are limited in assisting after natural disasters. 

The core of our humanity seems to be stripped away from us because of the need to quarantine and stay safe and healthy. Sometimes, if you’re like me, you begin to wonder, is it worth it? Is what I’m giving up to “stay healthy” worth it? What’s the point of being a friend when you can’t do all those things that friends do? I don’t want to miss the birth of my cousin’s baby or the funeral of my neighbor’s son. What do I do?

How to Check In

That’s where we have to be creative. Here are some ideas to support, encourage and love those that are facing life-altering events during this time of quarantine.

  • Arrange for meal delivery and share virtual meals—We love to take food to those who are experiencing life-changing events. Instead, have the food delivered to them. Then, use a video app to eat together while you share in their grief or their excitement.
  • Virtual Photo Albums—Simply going through digital photos to walk down memory lane and using the “share screen” function that many video apps have promotes the bonding and connectedness we desire.
  • Drive-By Parade—Gather some of your friends safely. In your own cars, parade in front of their home with signs of celebration. 
  • Gift-Giving Through Online Registry—Help loved ones set up online gift registries and purchase the gifts electronically. (Don’t assume everyone, such as your soon to be 70-year-old grandmother, knows how to set up an online registry.)
  • Electronic Greeting Cards—Find a ready-made one or design your own. You can send these directly to their smartphone. A sympathy card or one of celebration can offer timely words of encouragement. 
  • Prepare A Virtual Trivia Game Night—Create trivia facts centered around the person being celebrated (TriviaMaker is a good app).
  • Mail a Handwritten Letter or Card—There’s still something that makes me feel special when I receive a letter. Knowing that someone took the time to handwrite something themselves—everything about that says that I am important. Emails or texts can’t match the feeling of a handwritten letter.
  • Attend Events Virtually—Knowing that you took the time to attend an event, whether it’s a wedding, funeral, or party, tells your loved one that you won’t let social distancing stop you from sharing in their moment. 
    • Leave comments on their social media feed when appropriate. We know what it feels like to read our social media comments and feel the love and support of those who couldn’t be with us physically. It uplifts the spirit.
  • Call. But Use Video Calls As Often As Possible—Be available to listen. Allow those you love to vent, blow off steam and complain. You may not be needed to fix anything. Just being a listening ear goes a long way.
    • Note: When someone crosses your mind, call them then. Don’t waitI can’t tell you how many times someone has called me at the perfect time when I was dealing with something. And they often started with, “I was just thinking about you and thought I’d call to see how you were.”
  • Record And Electronically Deliver A Special Video Message—You may be providing a keepsake that your loved ones will treasure forever.

Encouraging, loving and supporting others does make us feel good. It uplifts us and helps us feel meaningful and full of purpose. Ultimately, we have to remember that it’s not about you—it’s about the person on the receiving end

A virtual meal or handwritten letter may not feel as satisfying to give right now. However, it can still help your loved one’s big life moments bring them the joy and peace they may need. That’s one of the special perks of having you in their life.

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Wait, your mother-in-law lives with you? Yup! For over two years now! The reactions range from “That’s so sweet!” to “Ugh. What’s that like?” It has been wonderful, but with COVID-19 and having to live in quarantine, it has definitely presented some new challenges. (Obviously, the older people in your life may not live with you, but these principles still apply.)

Check in on quarantined older or elderly family members, friends and neighbors.

Some of them may be in quarantine alone. I try to use apps like FaceTime or Google Meet to actually see them face to face instead of just making a phone call or texting. You might be able to see more worry or anxiety on their face than they would actually confide in you. (You might have to talk them through how to use something like FaceTime. It took, like 10 seconds with my mom and she was delighted to have a face-to-face connection!)

Ask them lots of questions, then really listen to their answers. Are they revealing how they really feel “between the lines?” Ask good follow-up questions about their physical and emotional health. Offer (read: insist) to run errands for them to minimize their exposure risk.

Normally, I advise married couples that each of them should generally deal with their own parents—especially if they have to deliver bad news, like, “we can’t make it to your place for Thanksgiving,” and to never make their spouse the “bad guy” to his or her in-laws. That’s still good advice, but definitely check in on your in-laws! This might be a key time to develop a deeper connection with them—that’s always worth it! 

The In-Laws

Speaking of in-laws, I’ve noticed something intriguing lately…  

While there are definitely some things my wife can talk to her mom about that I can’t, there are other times when being the son-in-law gives me a special voice into her life. This “voice” has been used a lot lately when it comes to the quarantine.

Case In Point: My mother-in-law recently had a doctor’s appointment. It was just a follow-up and she had a few questions for her doctor. My wife and I talked and agreed that a doctor’s office was the last place she needed to be in our current COVID-19 situation. The night before the appointment, my wife told her mom that she should definitely NOT go to this appointment for her own safety. It was more risk than reward—for an elderly person especially and even for all of us quarantined together. Her mom heard her out and politely said that she really felt that she needed to keep the appointment. (Mothers and daughters—it’s a “thing” at any age.) So, the next morning I played dumb with my mother-in-law, or MIL.

Me: So, what do you have planned for the day?

MIL: I’ve just got a doctor’s appointment to go to.

Me: I’m not trying to get into your business, but is everything okay?

MIL: Oh, yeah. It’s just a follow-up. I have a few questions for my doctor.

Me:  Just some questions? Go snag your phone. I wanna show you something cool!

Then I proceeded to walk her through the MyChart app. I helped her navigate the app and shoot her questions over to her doctor. She then, without any prompting, called the office and canceled her appointment. (For which they thanked her!) She got her answers in a matter of hours. 

She had no idea that she could do that. At her age, she just doesn’t think, “Oh, there’s an app for that.” She was thrilled that she learned something new about her phone and medical care in the 21st century. She just needed a little help.

A Couple Of Takeaways From The Story:

  1. Just like the rest of us, older people want to keep their dignity, independence, and don’t like to be told what to do or be treated like children.
  2. They get cabin fever, too and sometimes just want to get out, even though right now, it’s a really bad idea. Her socializing—like volunteering, crochet groups, yoga classes, etc., have all been canceled. Empathize with them. Help brainstorm safe alternatives. Get creative. Does she know that she can still “meet” with the whole crochet group on Google Meet or ZOOM?
  3. Don’t assume they know the facts about COVID-19 and the recommendations that have been issued. Don’t assume they can think of alternatives to going out and getting groceries.

It’s A Family Effort!

Our whole family is on the same page with Grandma. 

  • We all kinda “low-key” check on how she is feeling physically and emotionally. We watch for physical symptoms and mental health symptoms, like signs of depression and loneliness. 
  • Nobody wants to feel like a burden. Everyone wants their life to feel meaningful and significant. We include her in what we are doing and we also let her help with things we could certainly do for ourselves. Then we shower her with appreciation.
  • There is a balance between letting her lead her independent life and including her in our crazy family circus. We try to be sensitive about giving her space of her own and including her in our activities. My wife and I have five children—we know she needs alone time.

Three months after she moved in with us, we sat down, and I asked her, “Okay, be honest. How are we driving you crazy?” Since then, we’ve kept the lines of communication open. NOW is an especially important time to be in constant communication with the quarantined elderly in your life!

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How can you help people finish life well? Several years ago Carol Courtney found herself in an interesting position. Her mother called to say that her father was in the hospital due to breathing problems. As a healthcare professional, all kinds of things were running through Courtney’s mind.

“I knew he had been having episodes where he would black out, but not pass out. This made me think he was having respiratory issues,” says Courtney. “As time went by and I kept asking my mother for information, I realized she did not know the names of my father’s doctors nor did she have any idea what was happening other than he had breathing issues.”

As a nurse, Courtney knew that this lack of information was not uncommon for people who are unfamiliar with healthcare.

“Most people are intimidated by doctors, are often afraid to ask questions or don’t know the right questions to ask,” Courtney says. “My goal was to get my father out of the hospital. In spite of trying to coach my mom from a distance on the kinds of questions she should ask, what to say and how to get to know the physicians, when my father was discharged she did not know his diagnosis or the care that would be required to keep him at home.”

At this point, Courtney decided to take action. She wrote down every question she had before calling the physician. She knew from experience that if you ask the right questions you will get the answers.

The key is knowing what to ask.

“From my conversation with the physician I learned my dad had terminal pulmonary fibrosis and he was expected to live approximately three months,” Courtney says. “I was the one who told my parents about pulmonary fibrosis, what the coming days would probably look like and what we needed to do to make this time as pleasant as possible.”

This is when things tend to get tough for families with members about to finish life, explains Courtney. The stress can fracture a family’s ‘fault lines’ and lead to a falling out – right at the time when the dying person needs their support.

“I knew we had a very short amount of time to do what I considered important business,” Courtney says. “My mom emailed all of Dad’s relatives and friends and explained that he was terminally ill. She invited all of them to come for a visit as soon as possible. My dad died 11 weeks after being discharged from the hospital. But, in those 11 weeks, 32 people came to see my father. We laughed, cried, shared stories and truly enjoyed each other’s company.”

Courtney’s sons brought their grandfather tons of chocolate when they came to visit him. He loved chocolate, but hadn’t been allowed to have it because of high cholesterol. They had a serious party!

“When my father died, his funeral was truly a celebration of his life,” Courtney says. “This whole experience changed my focus in life. I realized I was passionate about helping people finish life well. My goal is for people to have reconciliation and celebration before they die.”

Most people don’t want to think about dying or planning what they want that process to look like. That includes arranging their funeral.

“Talking about the end of life and what you want it to look like with your spouse and children is revolutionary,” Courtney says. “I encourage people to plan and communicate about what they want and how their family and friends can help. They can take a methodical and thorough approach, and end life well.”

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