CIESIELSKI: Caregiving in the Age of COVID-19

May 26, 2020

It’s almost 7 p.m. on a Wednesday. About four times a week, that’s when I call my 96-year-old mother. If I call five minutes earlier, I am “an early bird.”

If five minutes after 7, I am “late.” I share being a long-distance caregiver with my younger brother. We are blessed with having a local support person who checks on mom regularly. She lives alone in an independent senior living community that has essentially been on lock-down since early April.

Management leaves her packaged meals on her apartment doorknob each day. On some days, they provide an assortment of puzzles or activities from which she can choose. She tends to organize her day around routines for laundry, meals, activities, television and prayer. I know that she really looks forward to our chats. She discloses what she had for each meal and what’s on the menu for the next day. She shares when her arthritis flares in her fingers and limits her coloring book activity or when she has had a restless night’s sleep.

She often adds, “What can a person do but offer this suffering to Christ for someone?” She finds ways to express her gratitude for her blessings and to encourage a few people she occasionally passes in the hallway. That’s her daily world. I mostly listen – listen not only to her words but also to how she is feeling physically and emotionally. We have both noticed the positive effect on her spirits by replacing COVID-19 news with EWTN or lighter programming. And we always exchange our love and prayers for each other.

This past month working from our homes, the Office of Aging staff has reached out and called about 100 seniors throughout the Archdiocese. Many have family and parish community to ensure that they are cared for. They have shared their home life activities: gardening, cooking, sewing face masks, praying the Rosary, reading the Bible, calling their friends and church members. There are those who live alone, sometimes anxious or uncertain listening to the news, needing a handyman for some chores or housekeeping, needing food or personal items, even making funeral arrangements for their child. Some are caregivers for their spouses; others have children or professional caregivers assisting them.

Our staff mostly listens, and seniors have been appreciative of us calling. At times our office provides referrals to our community partners for senior care: Catholic Charities Senior Services, caregiver agencies, The Better Business Bureau fraud protection, home-delivery medical and pharmaceutical services. For those parish senior club presidents who have email, we continue to reach out twice weekly with inspirational prayers and community resources that they can forward to their members.

Caregivers provide dependable, loving care needed by loved ones. If you are one, thank you. If you are not, reach out to support one that is. Offer to prepare a meal or run some errands for them. Find safe ways to stay connected and supportive. Give them or their loved one a call today to tell them that you are thinking about and praying for them and – mostly just listen. The Office of Aging offers some practical tips to help with caregiving through this time.

You can reach the staff at the Office of Aging by calling 713-741-8712 and leave a message. †

Mark Ciesielski is an associate director in the Office of Aging Ministry.