Our friends, Joe and Elizabeth, were in trouble.
Active Illinois retirees, Joe feared he’d contracted COVID-19. His doctor told him not to go to the hospital but to consider isolating from Elizabeth. This was just the beginning of their challenges. Since her stroke, Joe had been Elizabeth’s caregiver. While he was in isolation, who would assist her? And, what about his care? As a family with adequate financial resources, they quickly learned that wasn’t enough. Because of demand, there was a shortage of professional in-home help. Additionally, their adult children lived across the country, church friends and those in their volunteering groups, were in the COVID-19 high risk category and they knew their neighbors in only a general way.
In 2017, I gave a TEDx Traverse City talk “The Caring Ability of Neighbors — Reclaiming a Forgotten Resource.” My point then, as it is today, is that communities need the addition of a citizen-designed “neighborly system” for caring for one another.
For example, as a child, I knew the meter reader, milkman and mail carrier observed our neighborhood comings and goings. When vulnerable seniors or other people living alone, had a lawn of tall grass, unshoveled snow or mail and packages that stacked up on their porches, these service folks paid attention and called for help.
Some of that still exists, though now, such calls might be made by a food delivery person. Just last week, in another community, the staff at a pizza franchise saved a man’s life. He’d fallen and couldn’t get to his phone. As a regular customer, they wondered why they hadn’t heard from him. After repeated, unanswered phone calls, they went to his home to check on him.
During the pandemic, if needed, people have been told to ask for help. Many meal programs for seniors and children have continued uninterrupted. Yet, never have so many people asked for assistance all at once. Childcare services, attendant care for persons with disabilities and services for veterans and persons experiencing homelessness need more help. Most institutions and nonprofits are open to ideas from the communities they serve.
Another way to help, is to donate to the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation Urgent Needs Fund as well as to explore possibilities through United Way’s September 17th Day of Caring. United Way has worked intentionally to create opportunities that everyone, of all abilities, can perform.
Every day, I learn of someone who is struggling and seeking help through social media fund-raising platforms such as GoFundMe or Fundly. Often the appeals include “to help fund caregivers” or “so a family member can leave their job to care for their loved one.” Include the intersection of race, socioeconomics, gender, disability, age, ethnicity and it doesn’t take long to realize that we all have a crisis in caregiving. Not a one of us is immune.
I’ve received lots of different care during my life and cared for lots of people. I’m constantly looking at ways I can prepare for my ever-changing care needs, those of my family and loved ones and members of my community. For now, I have many more questions than answers.
Joe and Elizabeth are OK. Caregiving looks very different to them now.