There are many heartbreaking stories about people’s experience with Covid-19. The ones from group homes hit me especially hard.
I used to work in a group home. In it, four men with developmental disabilities and, on each shift, two or three staff members crowded into the dining room for meals and the living room for baseball games.
The men would go to work at an overwhelmed vocational center, and we’d all stuff into a van and get out into the community whenever possible.
Today, the vocational center is closed and no one’s going out. All over the country people, many of them people unable to fully understand what’s going on in the world, are stuck in group homes. Social distancing for them is impossible.
Family visits have been cancelled. I remember the impact on each man when someone would cancel a visit, or if they couldn’t get out for part of their schedule.
The staff would do what they could to comfort the man, but emotions would often run at peak levels and challenging behavior, sometimes bordering on violence, often followed.
The staff remained loving and consoling and cleaned up the mess with the resident when things calmed down.
In the past, the only time that regularly happened was during events like snowstorms. We’d shut down and one shift would move in and leave their families for a couple of days. We’d all do what we could to positively kill time.
Now that situation is over a month old with no end in sight. Birthdays are being missed, jobs are being lost, usual activities are out of the question.
And families aren’t allowed to visit.
The men I worked with would have tried to understand why they were stuck in the house alone, and the staff would have repeatedly, gently explained. But heartbreak would follow, and the desperate feeling of loneliness in a crushing crowd would overwhelm the house. Loneliness is especially difficult to deal with when it’s felt in a space full of other people interacting and going about their normal lives.
But right now, nothing is normal. Especially in group homes.
The staff are heroes. They do all they can, often spending more time with the residents then they do with their own families. People are working overtime for the lowest wages you can imagine with the goal of keeping society’s most vulnerable safe and loved.
Families are struggling with the inability to visit their loved ones during this event when families only want to come together.
The residents face the uncertainty we all feel with a mix of confusion and sorrow, often unable to anticipate that this will eventually end, and that we’ll try to get back to normal. Many of them see only today, and today is terrible.
Now people are getting sick. Stories are coming in from around the country of group homes ravished by the virus. We’re losing residents, and we’re losing staff.
The most difficult thing about this challenging time is that we all know what to do, and yet we can’t. We should visit our families. We should all stick to the routines that keep us stable. We should mourn together.
We’re not allowed.
We reach out to each other in any way we can, ever compassionate for the people who can’t quite comprehend what’s going on. It feels helpless. It’s heartbreaking.
We must seize this heartbreak, this desire to help others, this impulse to find those doing the work of caring and say thanks and hold onto it, so that when the crisis is over we never forget how it feels right now.
Then we’ll be able to rejoin families and relieve beleaguered staff and live the lives of empathy most of us aspire to, yet rarely get the opportunity to express.
George Hofmann’s book Resilience: Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis is available now.