Long-term care lockdowns banished visitors, but not joy

Posted 10/14/21

Bedridden in a nursing home, Sharon Southerland’s lifeline was the weekly visits she received from her friends.

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Long-term care lockdowns banished visitors, but not joy


Bedridden in a nursing home, Sharon Southerland’s lifeline was the weekly visits she received from her friends. But the pandemic brought the crucible of something totally unfamiliar—isolation.

Southerland, 84, has long been a fixture among the local congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Jacksonville, Fla. Visits from those friends ended abruptly as long-term care facilities throughout the country became hotbeds of the coronavirus, which claimed at least 131,000 lives within their walls. Southerland’s nursing home was no exception to the supply and staffing shortages that crippled many facilities. When staff members fell ill or quit, those still on the job went from covering 12 residents to 30 in a single shift.

“I’ve had some grim days where I couldn’t even get my water jug filled,” said Southerland.

But even as her long-term care facility struggled with the virus, she saw another kind of illness spreading throughout the facility: “What I see here is hopelessness.”

After nearly seven decades of reading the Bible and practicing her faith, Southerland knew the importance of being proactive in protecting herself from the disease of despair. “I have time to sit here and do all the Bible study I would ever want. How could I be depressed?” she said.

As Jehovah’s Witnesses shifted to virtual meetings in March of last year, congregants have been able to stay connected to their spiritual programs and support systems—a lifeline for isolated ones like Southerland.

She still sees her friends in the congregation at meetings and for their Christian ministry six days a week through Zoom. “We have so many mutual interests and positive things to talk about,” she said. “It has sustained me.”

The same has been true for 86-year-old widow Isabel Oviedo, who has focused on the positive aspects of the lockdown at her assisted-living facility in Aurora, Illinois.

Being able to connect with her congregation virtually in the pandemic actually allowed her to spend more time in her ministry as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Walking door to door to speak with her neighbors was hard after having four operations on the same knee, but now she connects with fellow worshippers over Zoom almost every day to write letters to those neighbors with an encouraging Bible message.

“I have never written so much in my life, not even when I was in school,” she said with a laugh. “But I love it. It gives me joy and peace of mind.”

Like Southerland, Steve Bruton requires total care because of suffering with cerebral palsy. He was used to receiving a stream of visitors before the lockdown of his nursing home in Noble, Okla.

While he has had no visitors for over a year, Bruton, 68, has endured the test of isolation. He remains active by typing encouraging letters to his neighbors and meeting through Zoom with his congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

He was especially helped by the Witnesses’ annual convention, held virtually last summer with the biblical theme “Always Rejoice!” Whereas he had usually only been able to listen to an audio recording of the in-person program, this year he joined Witnesses around the world for three days of online video presentations.

“I loved it all!” he said about the convention. “It helps people with the problems they’re facing today.”

That help would be needed only a few months later, when in November, Bruton contracted COVID-19 and was quarantined without his computer or phone for two weeks—completely cut off from his support network. Yet he was content, having his Bible, a copy of the Watchtower magazine and a radio. “I was okay,” said Bruton. “I know Jehovah God is always with me.”

His positive outlook has rubbed off on others. “Steve has been such a trouper,” said his sister, Lisa Whiteside. “Whenever I start to throw a pity party for myself, I just think of all that he has endured and his good attitude.”

Residents confined to long-term care facilities long for reunions with family and friends. But regardless of when those pandemic restrictions might lift, Southerland is sure of one thing: “Joy is not dependent on circumstances,” she said. “Whatever may lie ahead—I’m not afraid of it. I’m counting on joy.”

More information on the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including resources for coping with isolation, can be found on its official website, https://www.jw.org/en/

nursing, home, elderly, care