4/6/2022 | By Terri L. Jones

Whether we’re separated because of miles, time, or a pandemic, it’s important to find alternative ways to connect with aging loved ones when we can’t be with them face to face. Writer Terri L. Jones faced that issue during the early months of COVID-19 and came up with creative ways to maintain emotional closeness, including stories, old photos, and more. These ideas can work whether your loved ones are aging at home or in a senior community.

When cases of COVID-19 first started appearing in the U.S. in 2020, my stepmom and my then-80-year-old father isolated themselves like the rest of the world. They postponed doctors’ appointments, stopped their weekly card games with friends, didn’t go to church, didn’t visit family or have anyone visit them, and stayed out of stores. Not only was COVID a physical setback for my dad who had suffered a stroke in 2019, but the isolation also took a significant mental toll on my father, because he has vascular dementia, too.

Finding the right ways to connect

We tried phone calls at first, but my father, who has never been keen on talking on the phone, would clam up and allow my stepmother, on the extension, to do all the talking. As everyone started using Zoom, we set up a few video calls for my dad’s birthday in May and for Father’s Day. However, this strategy was even worse, with my father staring at the screen in bewilderment and hardly uttering a word (he probably felt like he was talking to the TV!).

old photos and card photo by Susan Leggett Dreamstime

At this juncture, I struggled to find a way to stay connected with him from a state away. Because my father has always loved looking at photos, I decided to send him a photo each day of my father and me. I started with scanning old photos of us when I was a baby and then moved on toward more recent pics. After I exhausted most of the shots of the two of us, I just searched for funny and uplifting photos of my father from days gone by.

Of my father’s reaction, my stepmother said having something positive and entertaining to look forward to each day distracted him from his aches and pains and got his day off to a good start. For anyone on the receiving end, it lets loved ones know you’re thinking of them. It can also be a reminder of better times.

Capturing the old stories

Now that my dad and stepmom are vaccinated and boosted, they’re going out into the world more frequently. However, my dad’s dementia has also advanced a bit over the past two years of isolation. While he doesn’t participate in many conversations, he does love to tell stories of his adventures as a younger man.

Related: Five online multiplayer games to connect with aging loved ones

Staying social while distant

Nowadays I listen to his stories more intently and have even written a few of them down to share with his grandkids and great-grandkids one day. There was the time he fell through the ice while duck hunting. His friend lay down on the ice and reached out his rifle for my dad to grab onto, managing to pull my father out of the freezing water without falling in himself. Or another story had my dad fishing in the bay in his small bass boat when a nor’easter blew in unexpectedly. He sought refuge at a Coast Guard station and played cards with the guys until the storm blew over, while, back at home, my stepmom worried that he was lost at sea.

You can write your loved one’s stories down, like I did; you can record them (video or just audio) telling the story, which is a more effective way to remember them once they’re gone; or you can use one of the many apps and online services like StoryWorth or StoryCorps to facilitate the process.

Sending love notes to connect with aging loved ones

Lately, I’ve started sending my father what I call a “love note” each day. These notes range from the specific reasons I cherish our relationship, like the time he traveled 150 miles to stay with me after my dog died, to memories we’ve shared. My stepmother is strategic about when she delivers the day’s note, usually at a time when my dad is in a bad mood or needs a pick-me-up.

I’ll continue sending these notes until I run out of sentiments to share. Considering I have 61 years of reasons, I doubt that final note will come anytime soon.

Delivering a photo or a note to your loved ones each day or taking the time to really listen to them are all good ways to make the important people in your life feel special, remembered and truly cherished.

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones