The feeling of separation – from our families, friends, and communities at large – is a sad outcome of the coronavirus outbreak. This is especially true in senior living facilities, under lockdown throughout the nation.
An effective way to address senior isolation and nurture spiritual health is through wellness visits, offering residents the opportunity to visit with a clergy member through a virtual connection. Lifetime Wellness, a leading provider of comprehensive wellness programs in senior living, has been helping to set up these visits in many of its partner communities.
Conversation, Prayer, and Support
“Spiritual health and wellness – abiding by the guiding beliefs and values that give meaning to our lives – is vital to overall health,” says Susan McKinney, vice president of operations at Lifetime Wellness. “Especially in challenging times, like the ones we’re facing now with the COVID-19 pandemic, we can easily get lost or feel adrift from our spiritual grounding.”
Social distancing restrictions, while testing a sense of belonging, have also led to creative approaches to spiritual support. Some Lifetime Wellness partner communities are improvising in their spiritual outreach, holding “Bible studies at a distance.” A facilitator reads Scripture over a microphone and speaker, while residents participate from their rooms, through open doors.
Pilgrim Manor Nursing and Rehab in Bossier City, LA, a Lifetime Wellness partner community, offers its seniors virtual spiritual visits every other Friday. Using Facetime and an iPad, Rev. Robert Beadle, pastor at First Baptist Church of Benton, visits with as many as four residents an hour. One-on-one conversations typically include Scripture reading, sharing of concerns, and prayer. Rev. Beadle also offers Sunday video sermons on YouTube.
“So many of the residents I visit with are ‘church people,’” he says. “They grew up in the church, and it’s still central to their lives. Now, all of a sudden, when they can’t attend Sunday services, have Communion, and enjoy fellowship, it’s so hard on them. Virtual visits help bridge the gap in spiritual health practice, providing connection, guidance, and comfort.”
The virtual visit program was particularly helpful over Easter weekend. “Our seniors are discouraged that they can’t see their families and friends in person, only through a window in their building or over a computer screen,” Rev. Beadle says. “Good Friday was a meaningful time to talk through these feelings of isolation – and share what faith is all about.”
Hunger for the Human Touch
Rev. Amy Hodge, a Nacogdoches, TX-based Methodist minister who is devoted, in her words, to “helping people on their spiritual journeys,” created a Words of Life daily devotional program for Lifetime Wellness and has served for several years as an onsite chaplain at partner communities. She and her husband, also a minister, are parents to three sons, all of whom have been a part of her in-person visits with seniors before the pandemic – and are now participating with her in virtual visits.
“In these days of social distancing, we’re hungry for the human touch,” Rev. Hodge says. “Even though we can’t give face-to-face hugs, we can offer virtual ones. My sons laughed when they saw me put my arms around the computer screen while visiting on Facetime with a resident. But it’s the next best thing to being there!”
Her middle son participates in this new initiative for connection through technology: the Lifetime Wellness Virtual Volunteers program. “He plays the bass clarinet, and it’s not easy to get him to practice,” Rev. Hodge says. “I was excited about the thought that I knew some of the residents would enjoy hearing volunteers play their instruments. Or sing, dance, read a poem, do tricks with their pets – anything that invites one-on-one sharing. These virtual sessions are a spark of joy for our residents and volunteers alike.
“In troubled days, when it’s so easy to fixate on ‘me, me, me,’ we need more than ever to reach out to each other and to our higher power. It’s a time of disruption in our daily lives but also an opportunity to deepen our spiritual understanding, to remember who we are at the core, and to seek – and find – strength, protection, and inner peace.”