WINNIPEG—According to Dr. Bill Thomas, an expert in aging, the three greatest “plagues” facing residents of nursing homes are loneliness, boredom and helplessness—all things unfortunately exacerbated by the current plague of COVID-19.
At Donwood Manor, a personal-care home in Winnipeg, that’s where chaplain Lisa Enns, a member of Charleswood Mennonite Church, comes in.
Enns, who normally runs a mix of chapel services, Bible studies, Sunday morning services and other activities to keep the home’s 121 residents active and engaged, had to pivot quickly when the facility went into lockdown in mid-March.
“It all happened so fast,” says Enns of how overnight she had to cancel all the programs. “There’s none of that now.”
Now she mostly does one-on-one visits, and also helps residents keep in touch with their families by phone or video.
For those who have trouble communicating with family, “it can be something as simple as ‘I just saw your mother, she is smiling and doing well,’” Enns says.
The quick change in routines and practices have left many in the facility scared and anxious, especially those with dementia.
“Not everyone understands why they can’t have visitors,” she says. “They are so missing visits with their family members.”
Residents are also hearing on the news how dangerous things are because of the novel coronavirus, which only adds to the anxiety. At the same time, staff are feeling the stress and everyone is tired.
One new way she is trying to lift spirits is by playing piano—something she never thought she’d be doing as a spiritual-care provider. “It’s a lot of fun,” she says of how she plays hymns while residents listen and sing along from the doorways of their rooms.
The staff also enjoy hearing the music. “It gives a little glimpse of normalcy, of joy,” she says, adding, “I’m glad now I took all those piano lessons.”
While grateful to be able to help at this difficult time, Enns admits she is worried and overwhelmed herself. “The work can be exhausting,” she says.
To help her keep going, she draws strength from her family and her congregation at Charleswood. “They remind me I am not alone, that I also need to be replenished and rejuvenated,” she says.
Her goal at Donwood is “to be a non-anxious presence,” adding that her message is, “We are not alone. God loves us, has not forgotten us.”
For Donwood CEO Nina Labun, Enns’s work shows how valuable it is to have a spiritual-care worker at the facility. “Our goal is to create a place where residents feel at home,” she says. “For many, nurturing their faith is a way for them to get the feeling of home.”
At this challenging time of COVID-19, Enns also takes a load off of staff who don’t have time or expertise to attend to the spiritual and other issues facing many residents. “Her work is profoundly impactful” for residents and staff alike, Labun says.
For Enns, the work of spiritual care is even more important now. “Without a doubt, ‘We are all in this together’ is more than just a cliché these days,” she says. “God is using us all to minister to one another as we navigate this exceptionally difficult time.”
Originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press. Reprinted by permission of the author.