We have a pandemic of loneliness brought on by the imposed isolation to mediate the spread of COVID. I listen to the stories of others who are separated from loved ones, not because of physical distance, but because their loved one is unable to connect, even by a phone call.
Bev has been a good friend since college days. After college, she moved to New York to care for her aging mom, now 92. When Bev contracted COVID, she was hospitalized and almost immediately placed in a medically induced coma. One day in March, I received a call from Bev’s daughter, Niki. Weeping almost unable to breathe, she said that her grandmother was insisting on going to visit Bev over everyone’s objections. “What are they going to do to me? I’m 92 years old. Are they going to arrest me?” Niki reported her grandmother saying. “Maybe,” I replied, but silently I hoped that scenario unlikely.
“Niki,” I continued. “I think I understand why your grandmother feels so strongly.” Bev once told me that her mother sat by her bedside for more than a year when Bev, as a young girl, was being treated for third-degree burns over most of her body. Bev believed that her mom willed Bev to endure the physical pain, the long recovery. Bev believed she would not be alive today except for the sound her mother’s voice, coming through her dreams, offering encouragement, hope, and love. “Perhaps, in order to fight this virus, Bev needs to hear her mother’s voice again.”
I explained to Niki that I work with families of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Even when it seems the patient is no longer to engage in our world, we can still reach into their world to provide connection and comfort. Research on comatose patients also suggest that connection is still possible. These patients may even recall words that were spoken in their presence while in a coma. With many such families, I encourage them to create a project that can gently hold their suffering in a sacred space of love and compassion. I refer these families to a program that has been around for about 15 years, called StoryCorps. StoryCorps creates a space for people to connect with one another around a central, shared story. I follow and support the program for the inspiration and encouragement it provides me as a therapist who witnesses the suffering of others. I often recommend it to clients who have a loved one isolated because of the pandemic, but don’t have the disease. Nursing home residents with dementia cannot fully understand why love ones seem to have ‘disappeared’ from their lives. Recorded stories still enable them to connect.
I asked Niki to go to the StoryCorps website to learn about a new project that they are sponsoring. The project helps capture stories of people impacted by COVID. “Have a conversation with your grandmother. Get her to tell the stories around Bev, of her earlier strength with crisis, their life before and since. StoryCorps will record the conversation and you and Grammy can have the hospital staff play it for Bev. Let Bev hear her mother’s voice.”
When you cannot do all that you wish to do, then do whatever you can.
If you would like to learn more about this project, go to https://storycorps.org/participate/storycorps-connect/. StoryCorps is a non-profit, donation funded organization. They would appreciate your support.