Over 100 years ago, President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother’s Day a holiday, and while it’s celebrated in countries across the world and on different days, this Sunday, May 9, is Mother’s Day in the United States. Many families have lost their mothers during this pandemic, and we pray for their strength and hope they are blessed with good memories. Many community members have been shut off from their parents because of the lockdown, and the Crusader wishes mothers (and grandmothers) all over a Happy Mother’s Day. We also wanted to address prevalent issues during this time. Last year the restrictions were harsher—with little to no contact or family dinners on Mother’s Day. This year, restrictions have been lifted a bit, with vaccinations across the board and many families now able to celebrate with their loved ones.
But there are still considerations to be addressed, with many folks not having family members to look in on them. In these cases, it is important for neighbors and church members to become involved.
My mother, who we and the surrounding Englewood community affectionately call Ms. Pinkie, is blessed in that she is in good health, independent and not living alone. However, the pandemic has taken its toll, in that for more than a year now, she’s been homebound in a way that she hasn’t been able to leave the house much, except for an occasional ride in the car and her scheduled doctors’ visits. Last summer, a big treat was just “riding down Lake Shore Drive,” not even getting out of the car but ordering food through a local drive-through restaurant.
Now Ms. Pinkie, who will be 88 this year, has always been an active person. Maybe just slightly over a decade ago, she would travel downtown via the EL and just “people watch” on State Street or Michigan Avenue. During the most recent few years pre-COVID, she and I would share the occasional movie or even live performances at many of the theatres throughout the city. The last time when she was giddy beyond belief is when I surprised her with a trip to the Columbus Park Refectory in the Austin neighborhood in October 2019 to see Maestro Riccardo Muti, whom she just adores. It was an excursion for the books! I know the isolation can be taxing at times for her. Even regular hair appointments have been put on hold. However, in my mom’s case, she has children to take care of her. And her church family, of which she has been a member for more than 60 years, has taken it upon themselves to also bring her food and make sure that she is fine.
One member, Gloria Jenkins, said on the occasion of Ms. Pinkie’s 80th birthday: “She is a virtuous woman and full of the Holy Spirit—she is directed by the Lord.” Jenkins added that Ms. Pinkie is an inspiration for all in the church and the community. “She is a light for us in the church, especially the younger women. She has a ‘fence ministry’ in the neighborhood to all who will listen.”
Another long time member at New Trinity M.B. Church, Carolyn McFadden, frequently brings over her baked goods and dishes for my mom. Neighbor Brenda Hawkins said: “She is like a second mom to me, and she is really nice and thoughtful.” Hawkins said that because of Ms. Pinkie’s longevity, “She knows what I am going through and she just keeps it real. She is such a sweet lady, and I would do anything for her.”
One of my friends who lives in Cincinnati says that at the beginning of the pandemic her mother, who is also 87, was living in senior housing, but she unfortunately became ill sometime during the past few months. Her mom now lives with a son and daughter. “Having to hand-off mama’s groceries at the building door for months was difficult,” Cynthia said. “No hug. No kiss. Just a ‘here you go.’ Thank God for video calls.” She added: “I didn’t want to risk exposing her when COVID-19 first started. We’re not sure when she had the stroke. She had symptoms in the last three months, and doctors said she had had a minor stroke. We’re blessed. She’s still able to do for herself, but she was no longer comfortable living alone. Now, she’s fully vaccinated and doing well.”
Bronzeville resident Dani Jackson Smith, 37, is a PR firm vice president. She is the primary caregiver for her grandmother, who will be 90 in June, and whom she visits at least once a week.
One of the major things that has happened during this past year has been her grandmother’s introduction to technology, Smith says. Her grandmother, who lives in Calumet City, previously had a personal caregiver, but she is independent and only uses a walker or wheelchair when necessary. “My grandmother has been affected by the pandemic and had been adamant about going to the grocery store, and since she is vaccinated, I finally took her to the grocery store last week, which was a treat,” Smith said.
But the biggest thing that has enriched her grandmother’s life has been the gift of an Amazon Echo. “We had to get her internet service first, and then she was able to participate in virtual doctors’ appointments. Now, she uses voice activation and can tell Alexa just what music and sermons she wants to hear. Her willingness to adapt to technology at her age has greatly enriched her life.”
Smith advises others to help combat the isolation that elderly family members may be feeling by looking into ways to connect through the vast technology options available.
The AARP recently held a podcast with Dr. Robin Smith, best known as the Therapist-in-Residence for “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” who provided tips on dealing with the social isolation, which Dani Smith discussed above.
“There’s nothing wrong with you, she tells elders. There’s something wrong with the pandemic. And that’s just so important for us to know. It’s not me. It’s not my weakness. It’s not my age or whatever, it’s the fact that this pandemic just knocked everyone down and out.” She advised those who can do so to reach out to others who may feel shut out. “We should make small, obtainable goals. Today, I’m going to make a decision to reach out to one person, either by phone or text, and make a scheduled appointment to hear a voice, maybe see a face on FaceTime or Zoom, and ask how are you?” She adds that its OK to discuss with your elders that this has been a rough time.
According to the podcast, certain factors have made it even harder for Black and brown communities and those age 50 and older to deal with this pandemic. “Not only is the social isolation higher in Black and brown communities, but there are less resources,” Dr. Robin said. “Poverty in and of itself is an isolating factor. It keeps people from access. Access to good medical care, good mental health care, good housing accessibility.”
And finally, she advised older adults to not blame themselves, if they have fallen out of communication with their children or don’t have good relationships with their grandchildren. “Children need to do all they can to assure their parents that all is well,” she said. “Reach out to them and speak grace to our older adults who are in our lives and remind them of how much they still have to offer, because somehow they made it. They made it through a lot of things.”
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader. She is a National Newspaper Publishers Association ‘Entertainment Writing’ award winner, contributor to “Rust Belt Chicago” and the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood: South Side of Chicago.” For info, Old School Adventures from Englewood—South Side of Chicago (lulu.com) or email: [email protected].