Long-term care lockdowns banished visitors, but not joy
While she may be separated physically from others, Helen Dalton feels closer than ever to her friends.
The 79-year-old resident of Prineville receives long-term care in a private home setting where she has lived in isolation with her caregiver throughout the past year and a half. Despite the ongoing physical seclusion, she finds joy in attending virtual meetings for worship as one of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Early in the pandemic, Dalton's congregation in Prineville shifted their religious services from in-person to virtual. This change means the world to her.
"I'm not depressed, I don't feel cooped up," Dalton said, referring to the Zoom meetings she attends almost every day. "I think it has really benefited me a lot."
Dalton regularly participates in Bible study with her local congregation. She feels a part of their lives and she makes a special effort to talk with the youths on Zoom.
"I'm so proud of the young ones," Dalton said. "They are wonderful."
Alone in his room, Paul Berggren smiles as he looks through his new window to the world: his computer screen.
For the past 18 months, the 75-year-old has navigated through lockdowns at an assisted-living facility in Redmond. Coping with Parkinson's disease adds to his daily challenges. But despite his declining health and the lingering isolation, he finds joy.
Across the state, nearly 43,000 Oregonians reside in long-term care settings, according to the Oregon Health Care Association's 2020 Oregon Long Term Care State Report. While pandemic restrictions continue to challenge the perseverance of these older adults, many like Berggren have found new ways to thrive.
"I realized that I can do plenty," Berggren explained, after facing discouraging thoughts in the early days of lockdown.
Shortly after the pandemic began, he was able to meet regularly with his local congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses via Zoom on his computer.
"I can worship my God and nothing can take that away from me," he said.
Berggren's family also appreciates the new arrangement for worship. "If he's having a day where he's feeling weak, he doesn't have to miss anything," said his daughter Rachel Tuller, of Bend. "He can still see our faces."
With the onset of the pandemic, congregations like Berggren's in Central Oregon shifted their religious services and ministry from in-person to virtual, from house-to-house visits to telephone calls and letter writing. It is a change that Berggren appreciates, allowing him to continue his worship and share his positive hope with others. While Parkinson's disease makes it difficult for him to write, he composes letters and asks the staff at his assisted-living facility to type them. He changes his letters to reflect the featured topic on jw.org, and he finds encouragement knowing that someone is reading his positive message.
Berggren is not alone. Isabel Oviedo takes the elevator to the lobby of her assisted living facility, clutching her walker with two envelopes in her hand. Mail drop-offs have become a part of her daily routine, as she dedicates a few hours each day writing letters to neighbors with an encouraging Bible verse. She's lost count of how many letters she's sent while under pandemic lockdown but estimates well over 300.
"I have never written so much in my life, not even when I was in school," the 86-year-old widow said with a laugh. "But I love it. It gives me joy and peace of mind." Joining with her congregation over Zoom for this ministry and other Christian meetings has kept Oviedo, and many like her in long-term care facilities, busy and connected despite the restrictions on outings and visits.
"I love spending time with my spiritual brothers and sisters through Zoom," she said. "I only wish we could stay on longer!"
With the change from in-person to virtual worship, Oviedo now has more opportunities to volunteer as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. Sitting comfortably at her dining room table, she can write to her neighbors without having to worry about her weak knee.
"My goal is to write two letters or spend three hours in the ministry each day," she said. "I don't have time to feel sad!"
With the ability to continue his worship from his computer, Berggren has found renewed purpose in life. When asked how he describes his attitude about the future he said unhesitatingly, "Confidence."
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