an older couple is on one side of a window, a toddler is on the other. this is a close up of their hands against the glass

Live with Purpose - March 19, 2021

Family Reunions Remind Us of the Importance of Touch

By Peri Weinfeldt

As recreation coordinator at Goodwin House Alexandria, I have had the opportunity to facilitate both virtual and in person visits over the past year, throughout the pandemic. Being able to connect residents with their loved ones has been an extremely gratifying experience.

For several months (and until March 1), we were not able to welcome visitors to campus. During this time, residents and their loved ones were extremely thankful to be able to talk virtually. These virtual calls would happen on a daily basis, so I also had the pleasure of becoming part of these families. Of course, there were some downsides to these calls. Residents were not able to physically touch.

That Missing Special Touch

Physical touch is an extremely important part of connecting with residents because it makes them feel warm and loved. Not being able to physically touch their family member sometimes resulted in feelings of isolation and losing a sense of themselves.

When I found out that residents and family were able to visit again, I was absolutely delighted. This would mean that residents would be able to see and physically touch their family members again! Recently, I was reminded of the difference this makes.

One Special Reunion

For nearly a year, Jan Taylor enjoyed weekly Zoom calls with her three adult children. We would chat and talk about different memories of Jan’s time at Goodwin House and what was on everyone’s schedule for the week. During these phone calls, she would get very enthusiastic as she spoke with her children and heard their news.

While on these Zoom calls, I noticed how she would reach out and to try to touch them or blow them a kiss. On a few occasions, she cried to me after we ended the call. Other times, she seemed very tense after the calls. Unfortunately, Jan was not able to verbalize her sadness, because she is experiencing advanced dementia. Even without words to express it, Jan’s facial expressions and demeanor made clear to me that she missed them greatly.

Fortunately, that all changed when Jan was able to visit with her youngest son Richard on March 10, as we were able to welcome visitors again, thanks to the vaccination rates on campus.

When I told Jan that she was going to see Richard in person, her face lit up the whole room. Once we got downstairs and she saw him, she released a deep breath of relief, and I could sense some of that tension leave her.

a woman in a wheel chair gets a back scratch from her son during a visit outdoors

Both Richard and Jan were over the moon to see each other. She held his hand kissed it. Richard was able to give her back scratches, and she was just so content. The look on her face really said it all. I was so happy that I was able to see this reunion with Jan and her family. After all those months connecting people virtually, this in-person moment put into sharp focus for me just how important physical connection is, especially during challenging times.

If this pandemic has taught me anything, it is just how important it is to reach out your hand and be there for someone. I encourage you hug your friend or family member, or maybe even give them a back scratch. I promise, it will make you both feel better.

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Peri Weinfeldt is the Recreation Coordinator in the Health Care Center Small Houses at Goodwin House Alexandria. She is a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist who implements and organizes programming throughout the Small Houses to address residents’ quality of life. Her favorite part the job is getting to know the residents on an individual basis. This allows person-centered care to peak. Peri considers it a privilege to honor and uplift the residents of Goodwin House Alexandria every day. Feel free to stop by and chat with her when you are on campus!

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