Guest Post: Lessons Learned From the Pandemic

This blog post was contributed by Brenda McCutcheon, Loretto’s Vice President of Mission, who plays a vital role to Loretto at all times, but especially during a pandemic.

It’s easy to focus on what we lose during a pandemic.

The reality is, the big picture can seem never-ending, overwhelming, discouraging. So instead of thinking big, as many of us were so used to doing, take a step back and focus on the moments that make up your day. Can you create a moment of joy? That was the challenge that inspired us as we spent months reinventing recreational therapy for our residents. Here are just a few of the ways we accomplished just that.

Have a sense of humor. We discovered laughter was the best pandemic medicine. We wore festive socks, funny holiday attire. We had the joke of the day, that I would share in the Director meeting every morning. Santa and the Easter bunny still found their way to Loretto to wave hello when staff came in and good-bye as they left in the morning. When we were told to wear two masks instead of one, some of us joked about the placement of the second mask – would wearing it on top of our heads be acceptable? These few silly things gave us moments of smiles and laughs.

Focus on what you can do. To this day, so much of the pandemic conversation is focused on what you can’t do. For us that meant, residents couldn’t come out of their rooms, they couldn’t do any group sharing activity, they couldn’t touch or hug those they loved, and they couldn’t be within 6 feet of anyone. Just reading the list is discouraging. We could connect with residents one-on-one. We could add “gift shop runner” to our resumes. We could set up video calls and window visits so they could stay connected with family and friends. We could create individual activity packets. We could have door-to-door music. We could design materials for the Loretto TV channels, where residents could watch church, see the menu for the day, inspiring quotes. When the weather got warmer, we could go outside.

Adapt, reinvent, get creative. The list of what we CAN do is lengthy – but only because I have a team of individuals who got creative and were willing to adapt. Yes, we all had moments of discouragement, but overall, our team reinvented so much of our job function over the course of several weeks and months. Regardless of what field you’re in, there are opportunities to “do a new thing,” but it takes determination and creativity.

Celebrate special days. Birthdays, July 4th, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas – these are all days that people look forward to because there is a celebration that separates them from every other day. It’s tempting to want to throw in the towel with the list of cautionary measures you have to take, but revisit my past two points and find a way to celebrate. At Loretto, we did door-to-door Christmas carols, helped coordinate window birthday parties, gave out a piece of chocolate, infused humor, and more.

Let people know you appreciate them. Who loves to feel appreciated? Some of us took time to design a lights display “Lights on Loretto” so residents could take a stroll and enjoy the holiday display, to reminisce, to pick their favorite.  Our team also did what we could to show gratitude to each other – in simple “thank yous,” but also special treats (admittedly many of which surrounded food) – box lunches, cookies, ice cream, tacos, raffles, and trivia.

Cherish community generosity. We may not have been able to welcome visitors into our buildings, but we felt unbelievably connected to our home in Syracuse, NY. Local schools, colleges, churches, groups, individuals sent cards, valentines, gifts, crafts, door decorations – so many things that helped us create “moments of joy” for our residents and each other.

The last year has been “a teacher” that I will remember for a lifetime. This teacher taught me about the importance of teamwork, safety, engagement, connection, faith, love, and for me, the greatest of these was holding on to hope for others when they could not.

Love wins in a pandemic. Little moments to show you care can make someone’s day. Something as simple as changing a television station, combing someone’s hair, or seeing the faces of loved ones on an iPad, are acts of love.

I have discovered it is the little moments – when you look in someone’s eyes, sing to someone, give a chocolate kiss, take time to listen – that can have the greatest impact on someone’s day. And that’s a lesson for all of us.