Christopher and Baird.jpg

Helen Christopher, left, struggled with the difficult decision to place her adoptive mother, Helen Baird, in assisted living care, but after four months, Baird was able to return to her family’s care. Christopher on the left was taken shortly after Baird left the assisted living facility in June.

Editor’s Note: It’s approaching a year from when the pandemic initially lurched Michigan to a halt in March. At that time, we talked to two older Americans about how they were coping with the sudden, drastic changes to their daily lives. We recently circled back with the women to find out how their lives have changed since the COVID outbreak first started.

TRAVERSE CITY — Rose Sickle lived through loss.

Her husband passed away from a non COVID-related illness in December. A month later, Sickle turned 83.

As far as day-to-day activities, Sickle’s life closely mirrors the pandemic’s first weeks. Pre-COVID, Sickle was a regular at the Senior Center Network where she played cards with friends several times a week.

Almost overnight, a favorite pastime and link to regular connection with her peers was gone.

Like so many others, Sickle and the Senior Center Network improvised.

“It’s still shocking to walk through the Senior Center here in Traverse City and see nobody here,” said Kristine Erickson, the director of Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation and the Senior Center Network.

With in-person gatherings off the table, last year the Senior Center Network partnered with Meals on Wheels to deliver meals. The meals came with “Sunshine Packets” from the Network which included things like puzzles and jokes.

Those packets were a high point for Sickle’s husband.

“He loved those puzzles — ‘word search’ was his greatest thing in life,” she said.

So much so, Sickle decided to continue receiving the packets in honor of her spouse.

“I said ‘yeah, I think I will, in honor of my husband, I will work one — word search,’” said Sickle.

The Senior Center Network also set up a Little Free Library, offers a Telephone Assurance Program for those who’d like to connect with someone on the phone and WOW (With Out Walls) programs. These are weekly virtual meetups that offer things like museum tours and money management information.

For those wanting to socialize outdoors, coordinated activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are available.

Since there’s no digital replacement for the human touch, in-person connection through the network is still a possibility.

Seniors can receive one-on-one services for things like massage and reiki.

“They all just say they’re so grateful just to be touched, and just to come in and have this interaction,” said Erickson.

The network plans its eventual reopen to be gradual. It will likely proceed in phases starting with classes that don’t require shared equipment such as discussion, knitting and hobby groups, and saving meetups that share materials and equipment to open last, according to network leaders.

In April, Helen Christopher, 80, was struggling with the difficult decision to place her adoptive mother, Helen Baird, now 104, in assisted living care.

When COVID hit, Christopher’s anxiety about whether her mother would become ill, intensified.

“It was nerve wracking; we just coped with it — nothing we could do about it,” said Christopher.

To compensate, Christopher brought baked goods to her mother’s facility.

“I just made her fudge and her pies. She looked forward to it,” said Christopher.

Baird is now living with Christopher’s daughter in Baird’s home. The move is a weight lifted for Christopher.

“She thought she was only in there for a few days; she was there four and half months,” said Christopher. “Just a relief to get her home — if something did happen to her, she’d be home and I could be there.”

For Sickle, her bright spot has transitioned from social connection to the hope the vaccine may bring. She received her first dose; her second was scheduled for early February.

“I think it might give me a sense of protection,” she said.

Even in a pandemic, life goes on.

For a complete list of Senior Center Network resources go to https://www.grandtraverse.org/712/Senior-Centers.

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