By Lori Hatcher, Crosswalk.com
I clicked off the TV after the governor’s address. Grabbing my phone, I texted my sister. The governor just ordered everyone to shelter at home. We need to figure out how to care for Mom and Dad, I texted. Call me when you have time to brainstorm.
Thankfully, our parents are in fairly good health for 76- and 84-years-old. They live independently on eight acres of land about 30 miles away from us. Although Mom avoids interstates and high traffic areas, she still drives.
We knew “independent” would have to change, at least for the foreseeable future. They were the poster children for “high risk for contracting COVID-19” and would need to self-isolate. Even as orders are lifting, it is still not safe to return to back to normal for my parents because of this high risk.
Knowing this would strike a blow to our parents’ independent spirits and impose restrictions they might not welcome, we tossed around ideas for how to best meet their needs.
We wanted to provide support in three crucial areas: physical, emotional, and spiritual.
While every scenario is different, I hope these 10 tips might spark ideas to help you care for your aging parents during the coronavirus pandemic.
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1. Provide Groceries, but Don’t Stop There
Our parents’ most obvious need was for groceries, prescriptions, and household items (think toilet paper and hand sanitizer). We quickly established a routine of texting the day before I went to the grocery store to ask for their list. As I shopped for our family’s needs, I shopped for theirs also.
At the checkout, I separated the two orders so I could present Mom with a receipt. This made reimbursement simple.
After a few weeks of grocery drop-offs, I cooked a meal and arrived at dinner time. We set up two socially-distant patio tables and ate “together” on their back porch. We laughed, told stories, and exchanged thoughts about world events.
Seeing the sparkle in their eyes and the spring in their steps helped me realize that while groceries were important to their wellbeing, social interaction was crucial. Every week since then I’ve brought a meal along with their groceries, and we enjoy an evening together.
2. Improve Their Outdoor Living Space
Knowing our parents would be spending more time than usual in the yard, my sister and I sought ways to make it more user friendly and beautiful. One week we brought hanging baskets and blooming annuals.
For Mom’s birthday, we put together a swing, complete with a canopy and set it up under a shade tree. My sister keeps the grass mowed so they’re not tempted to tackle it themselves and risk an injury that could land them in the hospital. Noticing that the siding needed pressure washing, we arranged to have someone come by to spruce things up.
Mom likes to garden, so we supplied her with potting soil, compost, and starter plants to satisfy her green thumb.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Silvia Jansen
3. Do Your Best to Create Routine
Many of us struggle to remember what day it is. Our routines are disrupted, and without regular activities, one day blurs into the next. This is especially true for those sheltering at home.
In an attempt to bring routine to our parents’ lives, we made a family effort to interact with them on a predictable schedule. I call my parents on my way home from work on Wednesdays for a mid-week check-in. We talk until I pull into the driveway. Mom looks forward to these calls.
If you have siblings, young adult children, or teens, encourage them to set a regular time to phone their parents or grandparents. If you plan well, you can sprinkle the calls throughout the week for maximum benefit.
Instead of making every day feel the exact same, these calls bring some predictable joy into their lives and help break up the monotony.
4. Engage Their Imagination
My friend Becky’s mom lived in a retirement home hours away. To bridge the gap between visits, Becky called her every evening at 9. Some days they struggled to find things to talk about, so Becky brainstormed a fun activity to stimulate conversation.
She’d begin with, “Once upon a time...” then make up a part of a story. When she paused, her mother would pick up the story where Becky had left off.
“We had many silly moments,” Becky said. “I’d exaggerate and try to make her laugh.” A sentimentalist, Becky went one step further and wrote down their stories afterward. Now that her mom’s gone, she’s grateful for the memories.
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5. Help Them Explore Hobbies and New Activities
Do they like to dabble in watercolors, knit or crochet, or do Sudoko? When was the last time they put together a jigsaw puzzle? Have they always wanted to try quilting? Would they enjoy a fish tank with a few colorful tropical fish? Or a pet?
You might be surprised at what secret longing you discover simply by asking a few questions. See what hobbies they enjoyed when they were younger and had more free time. Provide them with basic supplies and see what happens.
Be sure to consult them first if your great idea involves ongoing expense or upkeep.
6. Celebrate Anyway
Before the pandemic, our family gathered monthly to celebrate birthdays and holidays. All that screeched to a halt in mid-March. Once we realized the “new normal” would last more than a few months, we had to adapt and adjust. With a little creativity, we put together some socially-distant yet emotionally-close celebrations.
On Mother’s Day, my sister and I planned a brunch, complete with a fancy table cloth, flowers, and dessert. We sat six-feet apart on the back deck and enjoyed food and fellowship. On Father’s Day, the menu changed (think MEAT), but the dynamics didn’t.
One friend planned a drive-by party for her mom with kids, grandkids, and friends. Another friend arranged a day of Facetime calls from family and friends.
In these tough times, we need to take advantage of every chance we get to celebrate. With a little innovation and careful planning, we don't have to skip a beat.
Photo Credit: Unsplash/Jaddy Liu
7. Encourage Them to Tell Stories
Whether you’re interacting in person or by phone, encourage them to tell stories. Prepare a few questions in advance to prime the pump, then sit back and listen. One night my husband asked them what their favorite songs were in their dating years. He pulled them up on Apple music and transported my parents back to yesteryear.
Listening to them reminisce about their first date, their first dance, and the songs they enjoyed during the early years of marriage made us all smile. We learned details about their experiences that we’d never heard before.
8. Help Them with Technology
Each senior has a different opinion on technology. Some love Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest and others refuse to surf the World Wide Web. Isolation has a way of changing people’s minds, though. If your parent has resisted technology before, don’t assume they still feel that way.
My sister persuaded Mom to try Instagram. She found it easy to use and loves scrolling through pictures and videos of the grandchildren. If your parents’ church or Sunday school class meets on Zoom or Facebook, walk them through the steps to get connected. Bookmark the sites and write down instructions for future reference.
When my parents’ doctors offered telehealth visits for routine checkups, we made the arrangements for their appointments and tested the technology in advance. When a weak Wi-Fi signal wouldn’t support a video call, we brought them to our house and set up the call on the back porch.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/monkeybusinessimages
9. Find Out What They Miss
Ask them what they’re longing for most during isolation and try to make it happen, COVID style. My parents miss visits with the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, so we arrange Facetime calls. They enjoyed eating out, so we surprise them occasionally with takeout dinners from their favorite restaurants.
Knowing that a craving for Krispy Kreme doughnuts or Chick Fil A might tempt them to venture out, we bring them treats from time to time.
Even the most introverted souls feel lonely and bored the longer we stay isolated. Encourage them to reconnect with friends and family members they haven’t spoken to in a while.
Our hometown, Bristol, Rhode Island, hosts the longest continually running Fourth of July parade in the country. One day I pulled up the parade on Facebook on my phone and played it for them.
Although they couldn’t attend in person, they enjoyed getting glimpses of the excitement and seeing familiar sights.
10. Help Them Shop Online
One day Mom mentioned she needed a new pair of jeans. “And your father has worn out his favorite tennis shoes. I can’t wait ‘til we can go shopping again.”
“You don’t have to wait, Mom,” I said. “I can bring shopping to you.”
I booted up my laptop, clicked a few buttons, and soon we were browsing on Amazon. Dad chimed in with his wish list, and before long we’d ordered everything they needed.
“That was fun,” Mom announced. “I like shopping that way.” When the packages started rolling in, she texted, This is better than Christmas!
I don’t know how long our elderly parents will have to shelter in place, but with a little creativity, we can help meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. As we care for them, our relationships will grow, and we’ll make some fun memories.
With the Lord’s help, our families will come away stronger and more compassionate than ever.
When you grow weary, and you will, remember the promise of Hebrews 6:10: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”
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