By Maria Smith
After 111 days of lockdown, Melbourne Premier Daniel Andrews finally and significantly eased COVID-19 restrictions that included social isolation from family and friends, even a curfew from 8pm to 5am in the morning, causing terrible fear and sadness among our vulnerable seniors. After this gloom and doom, it is worth delving into the minds of some seniors (active St Jude’s parishioner Zenaida (Zen) Geronimo, AFCS musician-gardener Judy Capsis, Cambodian grandmother Yimay Soch (mother of AFCS Vice Chair Bunnary Soch) and dedicated AFCS member Remy Smith.
How I survived the lockdown – Zen Geronimo
The surge of cases in Victoria to more than 700 per day in July had resulted in a Melbourne lockdown. However, I started staying indoors in March after my nephew’s 30th, feeling trapped in the fever dream that seemed like never ending. It was heartbreaking not being able to attend a special wedding in the Philippines due to my health issues and strict travel bans. With churches being closed, Easter celebrations, Sunday services/special occasions were delivered online. Thank God for the internet, we were able to at least continue practising our religious commitment.
So, how did I survive the lockdown? We were not designed to live like this, our social skills being challenged by our ability to survive. With the state of our mental health, such conditions needed to be faced with strength and determination. Thankfully in my younger years, I was a strong person who can weather the storm no matter how rough. I planned what I should do to actively pass by the empty hours of survival. My number one activity was cooking my favourite foods that I share with family and friends. Being diabetic, I do my everyday walking in the backyard before siesta time. Watching brain-stretching TV programs and playing word games with friends, home duties, gardening, writing a daily journal, and copying/creating new recipes also occupied my days.
My sister, an active frontliner became my carer helping me with shopping/home needs. I am also thankful to the AFCS for providing food deliveries to our seniors through volunteers. Leaving home was for essential reasons such as visiting the cemetery and for medical appointments. Likewise, I have only seen my whole family in the past 32 weeks through video chats.
The months of trying to stay strong and “stay the course” – holding the line for just one more week, one more day and one more anxious morning waiting to see the number. The fear and frustration, the persistent anxiety, the grief and uncertainty and the bone-crunching loneliness… it all came crashing over me and I sobbed. You do not realise how tightly you have been holding on until you finally loosen your grip.
So, hearing the end of the lockdown on 28 October was like the dam wall breaking! Watching Premier Andrews – his voice breaking with emotion – announced the long lockdown coming to an end was a moment I would never forget. When he spoke of the courage, compassion and commitment we have all shown, something inside of me gave way. I felt exhausted and emotional but so proud of this community. Very proud to be a Victorian, Melburnian in Wantirna South.
COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions now easing – Judy Capsis
This is not new to me as I have been living alone in the past years. COVID-19 made me truly appreciative of the gift of life. I continue my volunteer work, calling an older person and engaging in conversation by phone. I actively participate in AFCS programs via Zoom to Be Connected while doing gentle and fun exercises, pop up quizzes and prayer meetings, enhancing my spiritual, social/physical well-being. In between free times, I dance while washing dishes; do indoor chores while the blaring radio plays continental and light classic; visit my socially-isolated neighbours and stroll in my neighbourhood for some gardening ideas. I also browse at old photos and read neatly kept letters from my parents. This makes me smile… and then weepy. I let myself cry.
At the end of the day, I read short inspirational pieces and constantly watch my favourite TV programs while catching up with friends on Facebook that also serves as my diary and reflections for the day. And precious visits from my daughter Em and son Sam some weekends to share missed “full-of-laughter” conversations and Uber meals, wishing they have extra time to jam like when they were younger. All day, all night without miss we video chat with family overseas.
I am not alone after all. I know and feel my constant companion is always with me wherever I am. He is the unseen guest at home watching over me as He promised, ” Lo, I am with you always”, the loving and caring God I know since I was a child. I trust and have faith in Him.
Post-lockdown excitement – Yimay Soch (shared by daughter Bunnary Soch)
Obviously, Yimay (Mum) is very happy with a bit of caution as we have not completely gotten rid of the virus. However, she is most happy and looking forward to seeing all her children and grandchildren again after a long time. Mum is also excited about being able to go to Springvale shops for Cambodian specific ingredients so she can make authentic Cambodian dishes, and the freedom to go and do the shopping for herself. Of course, I usually end up taking her to the shop and let her choose what she needs.
Mum is also very excited to be able to tend her garden. She plans to plant new vegetables and flowers ready for summer. With all the shops open, she can now buy all the soil and fertilisers and all the new plants and seedlings. She loves gardening, one of the things that keeps her active and gives her so much joy.
Both of my parents are very grateful for the monthly grocery assistance from AFCS as it makes them feel that they are not forgotten and that they are still valued members of the community. Thank you, AFCS for extending this program to the Cambodian seniors.
Finally, dedicated AFCS member Remy Smith also reflected on how grateful she is with the AFCS and Villa Maria group particularly with Nikki Velez who coordinates “Mag-Exercise Tayo” online program for seniors. Smith also looks forward to the Zoom Prayer Meeting and Bible Study during the week. She is truly grateful to everyone who has helped her get through the lockdown which is nearly over.
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