KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Two months of social distancing is having a striking impact on senior citizens isolated from their families.
The efforts of a local husband to continue connecting with his wife, despite being unable to walk inside her senior care facility, prove love can prevail during a pandemic.
Before the novel coronavirus threat, Rolan Waters would drive to Shannondale Health Care Center, nearly every day, and spend three to five hours with his wife, Ginny.
Following the outbreak, he was unable to see her for a month. Then, an opportunity presented itself: Once a week, for 20 minutes, Shannondale staff facilitate a phone call between the two, as they look at each other through a window.
Like clockwork, Rolan plants his walker in the same spot, at the same time, on the same day. Each visit he brings with him a cup of coffee, custom to Ginny’s not-too-strong preference.
The two make the most of their 20 minutes together; covering on one visit what Ginny ate for lunch, how she’s feeling, how she slept, whether she found space in her room for the pillow she received on Mother’s Day, and who she’s heard from recently. Rolan isn’t the only one asking the questions, as Ginny is equally as excited to hear how her husband slept, what time he woke up, and what he plans to do when their time together is over.
“I can see her, but I can’t sense her. So, well, it’s just not personal, at all,” Waters said. He appreciates the need for distancing, but makes sure he doesn’t allow one minute to fritter away. “What are you planning on doing this after, this evening? You going to watch Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy?,” he asked. “I hope so,” she replied. Rolan, getting one of many laughs on this particular visit, followed up with “…and go to sleep during it?”
Waters finds a life best-lived is one spent with others.
“I’m looking forward to the day we can be back together,” he said to Ginny before ending their call. “I’ll bring the computer down and we’ll listen to some music,” he suggested, knowing she enjoys Christian music.
Ginny first moved to Shannondale last October, after breaking her leg in September, undergoing surgery, and losing her ability to walk. She also faces a battle with dementia. Rolan said he notices she’s having more difficulty understanding him, but he’s learned to slow down.
“I think that you want to make every day a day that counts and also to appreciate your spouse and the situation you’re in because too often it can be taken away from there, I know, so a person just has to experience the fellowship and the love,” he said.
There’s more to Rolan’s life story, and his capacity to love.
His first wife died suddenly in 2005 to a blood clot. They were married for more than 48 years. Ginny was her best friend. Rolan and Ginny, both connected in a lifetime of memories, have been married 12 years.
Waters described the the effects of dementia as worse, compared to a sudden trauma, and explained how difficult it is to watch an illness progress very slowly.
It makes the chance to see his wife, albeit through a window, even more valuable.
Overall, his advice to others is stay connected, talk to one another, and put the phone down — unless it’s the only way to be together.
Waters plans to return to the same spot, at the same time, every week, until he can be by Ginny’s side again.
A bigger effort to connect residents, safely, with the public: #ShareASmileProject
Kim Golly, Marketing Director for Shannondale, said isolation is causing residents to feel depressed, and is also impacting their families, as well as staff.
In an effort to help residents through this challenging time, they plan to produce a few videos, made up of positive elements submitted by the public.
If you’d like to contribute, you can post a card, video, or photo to social media with the hashtag #shareasmileproject. For more information, go to ShannondaleTN.org
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