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Stories

Stories

Hear from older adults about social connection.

Calgary’s older adults are an incredibly diverse group, with every imaginable background, interest, skill, and preference represented amongst them. But they all have the benefits of experience and perspective.

Explore the stories below to learn how older adults and Calgarians made connections during the COVID-19 pandemic — and why that’s important. And visit our Things to do section to learn about opportunities to make connections.

Pat and Becky's story

Pat and Becky’s story: Staying Connected with the help of the Calgary Seniors’ Friendly Visiting Program

Submitted by Calgary Seniors' Resource Society

Pat and Becky have been matched in Calgary Seniors’ Friendly Visiting program since October 2019. Pat moved into a facility at the start of COVID-19 pandemic after living on her own.

She says this move during COVID-19 has left her feeling very fortunate, as she has great staff, management, and 250 other senior residents to depend on and connect with. The only thing she finds hard is how strict it is with leaving or entering the premises. However, there were many ways she stayed connected to other people during this pandemic.

For starters, she was allowed two essential visitors, which allowed her two daughters to visit with an appointment. While the facility offers many different games and activities, Pat’s opportunities were limited due to her vision impairment.

Her Friendly Visiting volunteer, Becky, would call 2-3 times a week and help by bringing her craft materials or any other supplies she needed. She would often use these crafts as ice breakers to get to know some of the other seniors in the facility by crafting candy wreaths over the holidays for everyone to share or leaving a bowl of candy by her door to start up a conversation.

Another perk Pat had was living on the bottom floor, which means she could visit with others outside of the facility on her balcony, socially distanced.

She says the best thing about having so many different options of connecting with others is that she is never alone. The advice she would pass along to those who do not have the perks of living in a facility with planned activities or social offerings is to make a phone call – no matter how long or short. Having conversations is important and make the world of a difference in her life. She also says to keep busy, whether it is by making phone calls or trying something new.

Becky believes she has made a lot more connections with complete strangers as we continue to share a common struggle – it is easier to empathize and strike up a conversation with people.

Her advice is to not be afraid to talk to others around you – especially strangers. She says to remind yourself that everyone is going through something and we relate to each other more than we think; we all need to continue adapting and supporting one another. 

Lynda’s story

Lynda’s story: Finding ways to stay connected in challenging times

Submitted by Calgary Neighbourhoods

When the pandemic started, I saw it as an opportunity to spend more time on things that had an interest for me. This was a true introvert’s delight. I had an interest in genealogy and wanted to join Ancestry.ca.  I also had some things in my life that I wanted to get in order and wanted to find a way to stay connected with the circle of friends that I had. Then family illness took over and everything changed.

One family member was diagnosed with stage four cancer prior to the pandemic.  I was a support for her. I would help her where I could, including doctor visits. That of course changed. I could not risk being near her and except for phone calls could not give her the support as I previously had.

During this same time period my sister had health concerns of her own and was caring for her terminally ill husband at home where he needed 24-hour care.  Services that she once had, were completely pulled. Home Care was a challenge to access. When we did, we often had different workers which tended to add to the stress. We had to keep explaining things and the support we once relied on was now not consistent.

One of my sister’s adult children and his wife moved into my sister’s home to help with the caregiving.  I relieved them on the weekends but stayed connected throughout the week. 

My sister needed more supports for herself, and we could not always be there 24 hours a day. It took a while to find an assisted living place for her after my brother-in-law passed in June 2020. 

This year I decided to sell my condo and move to an area of the city closer to where many of my friends are. Staying connected with my friends is important to me.  It was challenging during this time of caregiving. I did not see some of them in person until spring, but with the help of Zoom, I managed to keep some level of contact.

It’s much easier to do face-to-face connections, so I had to figure out who I should connect with and how that might best happen. It’s important to be intentional about who you want to connect with.  One way is to create a list and act on it. 

Bill's story

Bill’s Story: Staying connected with the help of Kerby Centre

Submitted by Kerby Centre

The pandemic has shifted the ways in which we connect with each other and the world around us. Social isolation has created fearfulness, loneliness, and a great deal of sadness. However, it has also brought out a sense of hope and optimism, resilience and community spirit—and Bill’s story is a wonderful example of this.

We first met Bill when one of our volunteers referred him to Kerby Centre. Like many other older adults in the city, Bill came to us during the midst of the pandemic seeking much needed support.

The isolation he was experiencing had brought his mobility and financial struggles to the forefront, alongside several emotional challenges. Recognizing the impact this was having on his well-being, Bill took the first step to connect with several different agencies.

“Even if they are closed, they are still there (to provide support),” he says, and encourages other seniors to reach out.  

Bill is grateful for the human connections he has made through our programs and credits them with combatting his loneliness and fears about COVID-19. As part of our Social Calling program, our volunteer Karla checks in on him weekly.

“She is wonderful and helped me figure it all out,” he says.

Adapting to new technology is another way Bill maintains connections with others. As an ESL teacher, Bill misses teaching students. However, he has one dedicated student who wanted to continue online, and Bill was quick to make it happen. He also uses smartphone applications, such as WhatsApp, to stay connected with friends around the world.

Bill said how it is “interesting how relationships changed” and says that despite the distance and isolation, bonding over the world crisis brought him closer to his friends.

Staying hopeful about the future, and happy about his vaccine shots, he is making plans to fish and to reconnect with friends in person. We love his optimism and appreciate Bill’s openness to sharing the ways he has been able to stay connected.

When asked how he’d like to be referred to for this story, he said, “Bill, that’s what my friends call me.”

Thank you Bill, for including us in your circle of friends.

Gurcharan’s story

Gurcharan’s story: Staying connected and supporting the community

Submitted by The Calgary Women’s Cultural Association

The Calgary Women’s Cultural Association (CWCA) has 50 older adult members including myself, Gurcharan Kaur Thind. I am the coordinator at CWCA. I would like to tell you a story about how older adults in my community reached out to others to help in a time of need during the initial COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.

The director of One Voice Canada, Alberta was assisting a group of young international students who wanted to reach out and help those in need during the early part of the pandemic. They planned to deliver food hampers throughout Calgary. Another group called Youth Helping Youth Calgary identified a need to provide feminine hygiene kits to underprivileged teens.

I was asked if my organization could assist with sewing cloth bags for feminine hygiene products. We organized a group of six older adult women to sew 150 cloth bags.

We were then asked if we could make masks for those delivering food hampers.  This same group of older adults sewed about 450 masks from their own home.  This took about 350 hours of work to accomplish this.

This group of older adults felt like they were using their skills to do something very important for their community in a time of great need. They felt empowered by their actions.

Soon after, these same women joined the Pursuit of Happiness Group at the Calgary Immigrant Woman Association where they made new connections.

People of any age can be inspired to reach out and help others. When we do this, we feel connected to something bigger than us, and we continue to build new relationships. 

Louie and Sylvia's story

Louie and Sylvia’s Story: The importance of physical activity and staying connected

Submitted by Calgary Recreation

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Louie and Sylvia could both be found at Thornhill Aquatic and Recreation Centre several times a week. Louie, a retired systems analyst, attended fitness classes as well as weight training twice a week. Sylvia, a retired lifeguard and pool operator, swam and attended aquatic fitness and she taught aquatic fitness.

They also connected through conversation while training and Louie shared his volunteer experience helping organize holiday events for seniors at the pool. Beyond the recreation centre, they were both White Hat volunteers at the Calgary Airport and active in their church and service groups.

Throughout the pandemic, they both saw their regular routines change and began to feel the impacts on their physical fitness.

Sylvia stopped visiting in person with older adults who were shut in and started making phone visits instead. She misses the benefits of her daily workouts in water. While she does online dryland fitness classes at home, her arthritis flares up and she must skip the next day, instead of the daily work outs water allows.

Louie stays connected and fit by helping others with home projects like repairing fences after windstorms, demoing and renovating bathrooms for someone who didn’t have the time to do work on a new home and exterior siding projects. He said he works on them a few hours a day, while also managing aches and pains.

Both noted the differences they have seen on people experiencing dementia, acknowledging how a decrease in social and physical activity affects the brain.

When talking about the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 and what returning to routines might look like, Louie recalled a bush pilot friend who did some remote work for several months in the far north where he lived only hearing the sound of the wind and his own body. When he returned back to the city, he found it scary to be around people again.

Louie and Sylvia say they know it is going to be tough for many people as we start to see things re-open and move away from pandemic living. Louie says it is going to be important to keep reaching out to people who are not connected, and Sylvia suggests joining as much as you can to stay active.

Both are looking forward to returning to the physical activity routines that benefit their body and social networks. 

The Age-Friendly Calgary social isolation awareness campaign is a collaboration between The City and community partners as part of the Age-Friendly Calgary initiative. 

Contact Age-Friendly Calgary by email: agefriendlycalgary@calgary.ca

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