STOW – The COVID-19 pandemic swiftly ushered in a new and isolating world. People are hunkered down in their homes. Those that go out are supposed to maintain a "social distance" from others. School buildings sit empty, with students and teachers communicating through electronic screens. Medical facilities are cracking down on visitors, and some aren’t allowing visitors at all.
Some of the saddest stories to me are from the area assisted living and senior living centers, where visits from friends and family are severely restricted, if allowed at all. Many facilities are keeping residents in their rooms, and away from the dining halls, activity places and other areas where they could socialize, in an effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Theses stories hit me particularly hard because a little more than a year ago, I took a spill on a patch of ice and fractured my femur close to the hip. As a result, I spent a significant amount of time in three area facilities: Edwin Shaw in Fairlawn, AlterCare of Western Reserve in Stow, and Sunrise Senior Living in Cuyahoga Falls, recuperating and healing. No one would ever ask for a serious injury; still, I have many pleasant memories of staying in all three places.
I enjoyed meeting and talking with my fellow residents, getting to know their stories. I looked forward to going to the therapy room and talking with the therapists as I worked to get myself mobile again. I enjoyed the many daily activities, which were not only a nice way to pass the time but sometimes gave me a chance to learn something new. One of my fondest memories at AlterCare, where I stayed for a month, was learning a new card game and playing with a group of regulars on Wednesday evenings.
So when I see the pictures and stories of spouses visiting their loved ones through windows, hear reports of residents having to take meals in their rooms and no enriching and engaging activities to help pass the time and stimulate the mind, that strikes a personal chord, because, had the timing of my injury been different, this could have been me.
I was happy to hear, then, about individuals and groups taking time to write letters to the residents in various care facilities, not in the least of which comes from Sarah Calaway’s fifth-grade class at Lakeview Intermediate School.
Since schools were closed, and lessons were going online, Calaway said her first assignment to her students was to write notes to those staying at AlterCare of Western Reserve.
"It gives my kids something to do at a time where they feel helpless and a little scared," Calaway said. "They are using a variety of digital resources such as Buncee, Adobe Spark and Google Docs/Slides."
The letters will then be emailed to Victoria Bestvina, a nurse at AlterCare of Western Reserve, whom Calaway said she met through a friend.
"Tori posted the people at AlterCare were really sad," Calaway said. "My fifth-graders are sad too, so I figured it was a good plan. Although we need to keep learning while we are at home, I wanted to make sure that my kids were doing [more] too.
"It feels good to have control over something and to help someone when you are feeling a little nervous yourself. I love looking for ways to incorporate helping others in our lessons — I want my kids to learn but I want them to be compassionate, loving community members, too."
Bestvina said the residents "will love the cards."
"It is very tough," Bestvina said. "Our residents right now are not allowed any visitors. They have now canceled all activities inside the building. No meals together. Everyone has to stay in their room all the time. They are getting very depressed and lonely."
Calaway said her students were "really excited about sending off their well wishes and love."
"In fact, many are making multiple letters to be able to share so that lots of residents get something special," Calaway said. "We need to spread hope and love and comfort even when we aren't able to physically hug and love on our friends."
Several students also shared their thoughts about sending letters to AlterCare of Western Reserve.
"I think it’s important because people that aren’t allowed to have visitors can get lonely and are sad," sid Alaina Daniels. "Even if they can’t see their friends, family, or just a person that comes to visit, doesn’t mean it can’t feel like those people are there. They can feel this by reading the letters."
Jonah Hickin said that "it is important to write letters to people who can't have visitors because maybe they could be depressed or just really really sad that they can't see anyone."
"I bet any person would be sad if they couldn't see their family," Jonah said.
Bestvina said that while outside visitors are not allowed inside the facility, those who wish can mail cards to AlterCare at Western Reserve, or "right inside the first door of the building [we] have created a drop box if anyone wanted to drop off stuff instead."
Speaking as a former resident, I know these notes from the outside in will be appreciated. Also, to the staff and residents at Edwin Shaw, AlterCare of Western Reserve and Sunrise Senior Living, you all are in my thoughts through this challenging time.
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @AprilKHelms_RPC