PEABODY – On a typical day, residents of some of the North Shore’s senior living facilities have an array of activities to choose from that rival any college campus: lectures, trivia, workout classes, movie nights, and game rooms, to name a few.
“It’s a place that people, for the most part, walk around with a smile on their face [with a] good attitude,” said Joan Zaidman, 86, of Peabody, who now lives at Brooksby Village. “Whatever years we have left here, they’re gonna eat them all up and enjoy every single bit of activity that’s available to them.”
Almost all the amenities that drew residents to places like Brooksby Village and Kaplan Estates, both in Peabody, are on pause as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage senior living communities across America, including several in Massachusetts.
Luckily, both Brooksby Village and the Kaplan Estates have been spared from COVID-19, in no small part due to decisions made by management and staff. For Brooksby, that means the gates are closed to nonessential workers, meals are delivered to residents’ doors, and residents are not allowed to leave their units, almost without exception. At Kaplan, residents are allowed to leave their rooms as long as they are practicing social distancing. However, the facility also is closed to nonessential visitors and meals are delivered to residents’ doors.
Despite these hardships, residents are doing their best to stay positive. Barbara “Bobbie” Lerner, 82, of Peabody, lives at Kaplan Estates, and she’s been able to continue one of her favorite pastimes: trivia. Lerner goes twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, for an hour-long game of “Trivial Pursuit” run by the staff. However, the games are now limited to just 10 participants to adhere to state regulations regarding gatherings, so she tries to get there early.
Other than that, she mostly stays put. “There were a few people downstairs that didn’t understand that you have to be at least 6 feet away from a person,” she said. “I decided I’d rather be safe than sorry, so I’m here in my apartment, but I keep on saying to myself, ‘I’m safe, I’m safe, I’m safe.’”
At Brooksby, restrictions are even tighter, meaning residents are in their apartments all day. “I think what’s upon us now [has] taken everybody by surprise,” said Zaidman. “None of us have ever lived through anything like this before, and I think that the people here have adjusted very well.”
Audrey Helzner, who asked her age not be used, agreed. “It’s such a weird environment,” she said of living in a locked-down Brooksby.
Helzner, formerly of Marblehead, has been staying productive as best she can by reading and playing games on her iPad, doing some spring cleaning and exercising. “I try to do some chair exercises for about 20 minutes, at least once or twice a day, because I think it’s important at our age that we move around a little bit,” she said.
Helzner starts every morning by saying to herself, “What can I do today to make it a good day? To cheer myself up, I do fun things. I had a brand-new blouse in the closet, I said ‘You know what? I’m going to put that on today,’ so I dressed myself up and I felt real good,” she said. To stay productive, she’s been organizing her files, talking on the phone to old friends, and working her way through lots of books. She’s currently reading “The Storyteller’s Secret,” by Carmine Gallo.
Zaidman is grateful for the tight-knit social network she’s built in her eight months at Brooksby, which has created a phone check-in system to make sure everyone – especially those who live alone – is doing OK. “If we don’t hear from someone for a bit, we give them a call,” she said. She said that although they always offer assistance to one another, “We sit and laugh and we say, ‘Yeah, but how are we going to get it to you?’”
All three women also are grateful to have family members checking in regularly. Zaidman has three grandchildren, six grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren spread across the country who call and video chat multiple times a week. She was planning to join a family Passover Seder Zoom call when we talked ahead of the holiday. She said that many Brooksby residents have devices that allow them to video call their families. Helzner also uses FaceTime to talk with her friends and family daily, and was able to meet her three-week-old great-granddaughter in California that way.
Lerner has six grandchildren, all of whom live nearby. Since they can’t visit in person, they’re sticking with FaceTime. And because of access to that technology, “believe it or not, there wasn’t that adjustment that I thought it would be,” she said.
Although they all feel safe and content in their respective facilities, they look forward to being able to go out again. Lerner said she’s most looking forward to meeting up with family for dinner again and is “dying to go out for Chinese food.”
Helzner is most excited to swim in the pool at Brooksby and “be with other people than myself.” She said she will no longer complain about the long lines at Brooksby’s on-campus restaurants. “[Waiting in line] doesn’t seem like such a bad thing now,” she said.
Zaidman is excited to see her friends again and play mah-jongg, which she usually plays as much as twice a day. Although she was sad to miss a Seder spent with family, “I just hope and pray that we will all be through with this situation that we’re in right now as quickly as possible, and that people will please cooperate and do what we’re told,” she said. “I hope that next Passover, we’ll all be sitting down together and having a wonderful celebration.”