Stories of Covid's impact - from the 'front'
Updated: May 20
As some Anna Chaplains report cheering news of getting back into care homes to visit residents, others tell of their continued frustration at still being kept at arm's length despite government guidelines encouraging homes to allow more access for visitors.
News from the front
One Anna Chaplain sees eight to ten people regularly at the same care home where she meets people one-to-one, offering spiritual support. She wears full PPE and, at first, imagined her appearance would be so off-putting no one would sign up with staff to see her. But on the contrary, one after another residents are brought by care staff bring to speak with her in a quiet corner of the home's lounge. She finds they want to talk about their lives during the pandemic, and about God. 'It is very humbling,' she says.
Another is also treated just as if she were a member of staff at the care home where she is chaplain. She too wears full PPE and takes a Covid test before admittance. She spoke movingly of encountering, recently, the husband of one of the residents. Like her, he had had to wear full PPE and as he peeled off some of the layers of protective clothing he told her how he had just seen his wife for the first time in 12 months.
The Anna Chaplain started to well up with tears as she told us all: 'You hear about it on the news but the way he talked about his feelings for his wife and the separation they've endured it really brought it home just how hard this time has been. It really got to me.'
Likewise, yet another Anna Chaplain spoke of the fact she has been denied access to a retirement village where she ministers. On her regular walks past the grounds on a public footpath she has struck up conversations with a number of residents as they stroll near the perimeter, including a man who was living with his wife in the complex. When his wife died recently he asked the Anna Chaplain if she would take the funeral, which she subsequently did.
'He and I were the only people there. They had no family. Other residents were not allowed by the retirement village's authorities to attend. I'm sad that I hadn't been able to get to know her while she was alive. He told me that none of the staff who had looked after her were permitted to attend the funeral even though the church is right on its doorstep. There's great sadness,' she said.
Wide geographical spread
The Zoom Network Get-Together just prior to the relaxation of lockdown rules on 17 May drew members from the West Country, the Midlands, the North-East, Hertfordshire, Hampshire, Surrey and London. Common to many was a sense of ongoing frustration that they are unable to reach the people they were accustomed to seeing on a regular basis. However, individuals also shared how they were helping groups and clubs to restart in a reduced way, all socially distanced. 'We could do with ten of me,' declared one, 'but we are where we are.' She's nevertheless seeing a rise in the numbers of older people volunteering to help others in their later years as activities that used to take place before the pandemic gradually resume.
For another network member the get-together was a chance to lament the closure of one home he used to visit often. The home had 'gone to the wall' financially because numbers were so depleted as a result of Covid-19. He said, 'It was forced to close, with residents moved to alternative residential accommodation.'
On a brighter note, one network member who organises church activities for older people said that in her area in a coastal resort, 'Almost everyone is very keen to come back.' She also wanted to give 'a huge shout out to my team'. Every week for months and months they have phoned their guests 'and as a result have really deepened those relationships', she said. 'It's going to be lovely coming back. We have lost eight people over the year including one of our volunteers. It has been a tough year but it's really exciting that we can now meet again.
'We have started groups for people living alone, for example,' she told us. 'We offer, in church, an hour of quiet reflection and worship, socially distanced, with places for small groups to just sit and chat. Some struggled to walk over the threshold. One widow said, "I never thought I'd be able to come back without my husband beside me but you've helped me."'
'Between 15 and 20 people have lost their spouses in this time, and not just to Covid. This is a gentle way to reintroduce people and provide extra support,' said the organiser.
One upside of the pandemic is that it has enabled the Anna Chaplaincy network to meet together in these informal ways on Zoom – bringing together people from many different parts of the UK to discuss what, we've discovered, are common feelings and shared challenges. Our time together concluded with a short act of worship marking Ascension Day.
Feedback for the network get togethers has been 100 per cent positive:
So interesting and very useful to hear up-to-date information about what is happening with those who are working for Anna Chaplaincy in so many different areas countrywide and aspects of their work.
Thank you so much for such inspiring stories from all over the country. To all those of you in the Anna Chaplaincy team who support us in what we do, a huge thank you – just knowing you are there and are willing to listen, encourage and pray for us is an enormous help.