Mary Kenyon

Spring is a time of renewal. It is a time for us, as individuals and as a community, to look at what surrounds us and make changes where needed.

There are lessons to be learned in these unprecedented times of self-isolation and social distancing. Some are easier than others. Shelf-stable TP seems to have garnered a lot of attention; still baffled by that one. Doesn’t everyone have those cute dispensers that hold four-five rolls each? Tastefully displayed in guest bathrooms, these handy dispensers store at least a month’s worth of the soft and strong stuff (or one mega package from Costco). Why the hoarding?

Two weeks into the shelter in place orders in many states, and in San Miguel County here in Colorado, we are seeing the reactions of a stunned country and a woefully ill-prepared system. When the outbreak started in China what did YOU do? Speaking for myself, I didn’t do anything. Looking around, I was not the only one. Now we are learning that the warning signs were there … for a pandemic, no less. Yet, we were all too busy with our day-to-day schedules and political mud-slinging to pay attention to what inevitably happened. Now people are looking for someone to blame. Time to look in the mirror.

We live in a destination resort, filled with international travelers who mingle among us on the slopes, in the restaurants, at our cultural events and activities, and at the grocery stores. Of course the silent and invisible virus that lives floating in the air for three hours and on surfaces for up to three days, was going to invade our Valley bubble.

Of course our remote location was going to make it difficult for test kits and hospital supplies to make it here. We regularly airlift people who need special treatment to Grand Junction and Denver and report on it in our local news. Did we forget why we chose to live here in the first place? Remote, isolated, uncrowded and “small town character,” are the winning political platforms of the last 20 years. Why are we acting so surprised at the resulting outcomes of that philosophy?

The isolation jokes have already flooded the Internet. I am a true believer in laughter being the best medicine, so that is fine by me. My two favorites are questioning the appropriate time to change from your jammies to sweats and that we are just four weeks away from knowing everyone’s true hair color!

Video chat happy hours, complete with the requisite Quarantinis, are popping up, as well as virtual game nights, book clubs and support groups. I remember playing the family version of You Don’t Know Jack with my Mom and brother in the mid-nineties – let’s dust that one off. Neighbors are sitting on their front lawns, raising a glass to each other across the street, just to prove they are not alone in this.

This is a wake-up call. It is time for us to rethink our ways and look around at what this virus has revealed. It is time to be responsive to this forced change. We have families, neighbors, workers, volunteers and community members who care about each other; who love and are loved. Pass it on (virtually, of course).

For the identified “vulnerable” population, yes, the older adults, this is nothing new. The designation of susceptibility does not limit the virus to this group as the daily tallies of sick and dying prove. It also does not predetermine the end game. Yet, we have community members calling for strict isolation for vulnerable groups and services to support them to “control” the inevitable spread. Come on, really? Look around the Mid-Valley; the older population has been unwillingly practicing self-isolation and sheltering in place for years.

The monotony of day-to-day living takes its particular toll on individuals living alone. Does it matter if it is Saturday or Tuesday if both those days look and feel the same? No one is visiting so why shower, brush your hair or change into day-clothes, especially if you did it yesterday, or was it the day before? Taking on a hobby or project seems so futile (who would see it anyway?) and eating has lost its appeal, sometimes as a side effect to medication. Even if cooking or baking were a passion, consuming the resulting products may take days. More boredom.

I applaud the healthcare workers, business owners and community members who have recognized the challenges of our older population during this outbreak. Even the smallest gesture can break up an otherwise uneventful day. A passing smile, a moment to call/ listen and a helping hand (gloved for now), go a long way.

Take action as necessary! A friend of mine assisted an older woman negotiate for a package of coveted paper products in City Market last Friday. It was during the 7-8 a.m. Senior Hour with a group of 30-somethings who were above it all and there anyway. They blocked the woman’s access to the desired product; even shoved her a little. Scary. My friend not only gave her a package of what she wanted, he also took one of the hoarded three-packs of disinfectant wipes from their cart and gave it to her. They didn’t protest. Of course they knew better. It just took an advocate for the intimidated (by their size and number) woman to convince them to do the right thing.

Many of us are going to be in this situation one day. Practice makes perfect. Loss of spouse, loss of friends who had to move away, no roommates and alone, living in the community we love.

This is a good test for how we will survive. I am hopeful that it will uncover better programs, services and opportunities for “aging in community” in the Roaring Fork Valley. From home meal delivery to grocery/prescription shopping to friendly home visits to combat loneliness, the enormous gaps in services are becoming apparent to our leaders. Let’s embrace the joys of a simpler life of human interaction. Let’s commit to doing better for our older population. After all, it is YOUR future for which we are preparing.

Mary Kenyon is organizing Valley Meals and More and is a Senior Matters Board member. Mary advocates for our older population and is passionate about identifying issues and resources for elders in the Valley. Email her your challenges and suggested solutions at mary@impactmarketingaspen.com or call 970-274-2632.