By Laurie Einstein Koszuta
This is the story of immersion, of being all in, of being conscious of what is going on, listening to the experts, and doing the things that are necessary to stay safe. This is also the story of taking action. Appropriate action and thinking differently. It is a necessity in the age of the coronavirus.
When things are out of balance, it is easy to fumble through each day and get nothing done. Without a solid routine, school-age kids and the elderly, for example, can flounder. But what about the rest of us? Hope has not been canceled. We need to reboot our thinking, to kickstart ourselves into action. By using innovation, imagination, and creative ideas, we can get many of the same things done simply by using a different approach. If for no other reason, it is mandatory for our current and future mental health.
It is not easy to change directions in life mid-course, but that is precisely what just happened to all of us with this virus. So, I had to ask myself several questions. Is the coronavirus going to make me crumble or become creative? Am I going to get pummeled, or am I going to persevere? I know that I can either stumble or step up. I have to step up. It isn’t an option.
In my case, I have to think about my elderly parents. As depression and apprehension has set in for them, I have had to lean on my creativity to get through. I have always heard that life is not supposed to be easy but I never expected this.
So what do I think? I know that it is still possible to reach out to others even from dozens of feet away, even behind glass, and even when you think it can’t be done. Because it can. It is just a matter of thinking outside the box.
When the coronavirus closed my 96-year-old mother’s assisted living facility to visitors, I immediately knew I was in trouble. How was I going to soothe her frequent worries and anxiety without physically being next to her? I had several things working against me. She is extremely hard of hearing and has poor eyesight. For me, that means talking on the phone is an exercise in futility. We still make an attempt, but she tends to fill in the blanks whenever she doesn’t understand. It is only somewhat comical.
The disturbing thing is that I know she won’t survive without some intervention. And, that intervention has to come from me. I have to dig deep to be flexible, resilient, and find creative solutions.
I knew that I couldn’t go inside the building, but wondered what would happen if I stood outside her window while she sat inside near the window? In that instant, ‘window visiting’ was born.
The first time I visited and knocked on her window, she was intrigued and very surprised. I brought a large whiteboard, marker, and eraser with me. She motioned as if to ask, ‘what was I doing standing in the dirt in between the shrubs?’
I pressed on. I stood as close to the window as I could and started writing news of the day in huge letters on the board – one word at a time. One sentence, even in its most condensed and basic form, can take 5 minutes for her to understand. But she likes it and she feels connected so I have to do it. I draw stick figures and smiley faces and try to use hand gestures as well. I am lucky that she has a first-floor window, but it wouldn’t have mattered. I would have thought of something else if that hadn’t worked. But it has worked, and it has made a difference. When she sees me knocking on her window, her mood changes because she knows I am her lifeline to the outside world.
My mom hasn’t seen my 94-year-old father in more than two weeks. Previously, my father would take a fifteen-minute car ride from his independent apartment complex to the assisted living facility to visit. But as the world came to an abrupt halt, so did all of his routines. His already small world shrank even further. Days now run together, he forgets to eat, is more lethargic and less active. The less he does, the less he wants to do, and sadness and despair have slowly crept in. Without some intervention, I know he will slip into the abyss.
Two parents, separated by several miles and in two separate buildings and both getting depressed. It is a lot to take in. You don’t have to have the virus to die from its effects.
My parents don’t have a lot of tech tools at their disposal, except for my father’s cell phone. In desperation, during one of my window visits, I pulled out my iPhone, and video dialed my father’s cell phone. By sheer accident, he answered, and he was as surprised to see my face as I was that we had a visual connection. Without a word, I turned the phone toward the window, and suddenly my parents could see each other. They started waving and smiling. And even though it was through the glass, they were happy. And now, I video dial my father during every window visit. For me, it was an extraordinary moment of creativity in action.
There are many examples of people doing extraordinary things. Drive-by grandparent sightings, virtual birthday parties, fostering pets in need, and even musicians presenting concerts from their own home living rooms. It may not look exactly like we are used to, but it does show that imagination and creativity can solve hard problems.
Collectively, we all seem to have coronavirus fatigue. The news is filled with it, all conversations start with it, and we are hunkered down in our homes because of it. There are dented dreams, lost jobs, and canceled events. The end of this reign of terror is certainly a big question. But in the meantime, we can still look for solutions even when they aren’t always obvious. It may not be a cure, but it’s a start that might make a difference.