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Hidden Lesson

Mary Louise Helling

Resident, New Cassel Retirement Center

June 29, 2020

     We knew it was coming, but there was no way to know what or where. We had no clue that it could be so fast.  The morning of March 15 I kept an appointment and when I got back for lunch the word was that we were going to be in shutdown mode the next day.  The same day all activities were cancelled, the chapel and the dining-room closed … mass was only available via our in-house closed circuit tv, as were updates on where we were and what to expect.  Shock waves from Covid-19 had invaded our rather quiet and orderly life here at New Cassel.  It was hard to get one’s mind around.    No one was really surprised, of course, but the harsh reality of it all left out heads swirling.  Thus, the residents were awash in a flurry of nervous talk and muffled fear. 

     Our New Cassel staff still go above an beyond to soften our days –  puzzles left on doors, games and even dancing in the halls along with Bingo called out in the hall and shouts from those with chairs pulled up to the doorways.  Our staff and especially our Life Enrichment people are all endowed with a gigantic gene for fun and endless creative energy.  Life here at New Cassel has always been rich and it has remained so still. 

     With a normal temperature, we are free to go anywhere in the facility and get in plenty of fresh air and exercise walking outdoors and using our walking trail that surrounds our buildings.  It is lovely, with lots of trees and birds, rabbits, squirrels and a few creatures  I can’t name. There are benches everywhere to sit and take it all in.   Also, I have a balcony with pots of flowers and comfy furniture that I love and where I have always spent quality time writing and reading.  This is my thing… and is always there to help me find my way in good things and difficult times. Writing.

     As time has moved on, missing my family and lunch out with good friends has proved to be the most difficult adjustment to make.  We use Facetime frequently and Balcony Visits have been a fun way to keep in touch with the part of my family here.  Zoom is on my computer now and my family here in town has patiently given me lessons on how to use it.  This has been really fun!. On Mother’s Day I had an afternoon with my entire family all over the country and in a way, it was overwhelming to look at the screen and see all of them.  They left lunch for me downstairs (between doors) and at a selected time we all tuned in to share our meal together and I even had a catch-up with my four new great grandbabies.  It was a so exciting and I had a marvelous time! 

     Eventually after 3 months of this and many dropped- off meals shared, like all good things, I became aware that my arms ached for hugs , felt empty and though I could see them all and talk to them all… I couldn’t touch any of them … or anyone here for that matter.   In this fragile time.  I could hear my daughter saying, “Mom, not touching!  How will you talk!”  No touching, hugging, kissing or patting an arm, a back and when masks were required outside the apartment, not even a smile of greeting, encouragement, or empathy?  I became aware of a rising heaviness, depression. 

     By nature, I am an introvert but a fairly well adapted extrovert.  I do love people, yet I still refuel with time alone.  But I never realized that I touch when I have no words, when my feelings run so deep,  I smile, I hug, I pat, and I think you know what I mean.  This is the other side of my speaking self, my verbal self and now finding myself really bummed out because I am feeling muffled. This feeling is a remnant of childhood and I’ve not been aware of it exactly this way.  This was awful!  I couldn’t even write!

     And there you have it!  I knew what the key is… there is always a key!  Finding out what ails me is the key. I know there is always a lesson in whatever difficulty is presented to me but before I can get to it, I have to clear away the fog of assumptions and shut up for awhile.  Being human, I am always and reliably slow on the uptake and eventually I felt a break in the clouds and a lightening of my spirit.  I knew that feeling of being muffled was my depression!  Things don’t suddenly leave and my feelings do no more than to turn to face the sun.  It’s a lesson and that means there’s work to do.  The sure thing is that the virus isn’t just going to go away and has the looks of being with us a long time.  I have to learn another way to be at this age and in these times.  This is future work and that’s always good for me; I expect I’m like a house that keeps having projects pop up and I’ve always had a compulsion to always tackle that ‘next thing!”  And for sure, there’s always the new lessons along the way.  There is value in that for me.  Most of all, I am in a good place here at New Cassel and we are all well here… still.   That is everything isn’t it?