This is the original version of the story written by Julia Gorman and featured in our Spring 2021 newsletter.
I am fairly sure it began with her smile. And that seems to be the way it will end. Our mother’s beautiful smile was always her starting point, her entry to friendships and her enthusiastic embrace of nearly everything life had to offer.
Now well into her late eighties, and incapable of speaking or moving, that smile is still supporting us all. It has also been a key to revealing one of the little-told stories of the pandemic. A story of the love that is given by the workers in the care homes for our most vulnerable in this first, most challenging year of the pandemic. My sister has named that love, and the staff who give it, “the Covid hearts”.
Stories we hear daily are about care home staff who are stressed, rushed, burnt out, insecurely employed, and underpaid. But we have discovered another story that our visits to mum’s care home revealed slowly and beautifully over the course of the pandemic. It is the story of those Covid hearts, the staff who are so thoughtful of the dignity of those in their care.
Mum’s smile drew in a new friend, in this last year of her life. A friendship that seems, on the surface, entirely one-sided. Shawleen and our mother formed a bond that rests on extraordinary care and concern for the small comforts that have become so difficult to share during the pandemic constraints. And although Shawleen’s care for our mum has been so special, she is not unique. There are many Covid hearts at the home – we have seen them all.
One day we arrive to find mum’s hair in soft curlers, the next day her one open hand beautifully manicured, plastic spoons for her meal instead of cold metal ones, and specially flavoured ice cream for the holidays.
Sitting with mum in the dining room, I hear Mitchell speaking into Google Translate on his phone, then repeating “you look beautiful today” in Bulgarian to the woman he is cajoling to eat her lunch. She smiles gently, through the fog of her dementia. Mitchell beams proudly.
The care of the staff’s Covid hearts seems never-ending. We say thank you as often as we can, but while our thanks is welcome, it doesn’t seem necessary. When I marvel that Barbie in the kitchen knows the complex meal requirements of each of the residents by heart, she simply smiles. When I ask Tracey, the floor’s nurse, to check – yet again – mum’s sore elbow, she patiently and carefully checks.
There is another story, beyond the worry and the precautions, the lockdowns and the isolation. There are many Covid hearts who warm the tender lives of our family – parents, spouses, dear friends – who live in the care homes.
A smile, and many Covid hearts, who reveal that love makes each difficult day a little bit easier, wherever it is found.
By Julia Gorman.