Ruth Lewis of Homer is not a morning person, thank you very much.
“I’m cranky,” she said on recent April morning — Earth Day.
The wind was blowing, it was 30 degrees and the white stuff was flying.
“I’m looking at a snowstorm,” she said. “It does help right now to talk with people. And for me it actually helps a lot to be quarantined in really awful weather.”
So how are “us fun, exciting, senior citizens” handling a stay-at-home order in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic? Lewis said.
The retired grant writer/administrator for the town of Vestal, said: “I should not have gotten out of bed this morning.”
Thankfully, she did.
Keep a routine
Lewis and other retirees had ideas for people crawling the walls at home when they normally would be out and about:
Keep a routine, get interested in other people, exercise, limit the news and stay busy.
“Even though life is a real pain right now, it’s still a precious gift,” Lewis said. “Try to figure out how to make more of the day. You don’t have to have some major accomplishment. But this is your day to do what you want. If it’s to eat ice cream, do it. Celebrate your life. Don’t take it for granted.”
“I have had people dying in my life since I was 3 years old. I appreciate every day,” Lewis said. “Even if it’s being on the sofa and reading trashy fiction.”
Lewis has no problem maintaining a routine.
“Sadly, I am a very organized person,” she said. “In this situation I have organized myself more, because I can’t do certain things. I divide my week. I do domestic house work one day. I have a work project day. A personal project day. An errand day … A goof off day, which sometimes extends to three days. I read endlessly.”
The big difference is socializing, she said.
“Normally in the spring my friends and I make plans: going to Cortland Repertory Theatre, Center for the Arts, senior bus trips,” Lewis said. “Now socializing is being on the phone. Being on the internet. Long phone calls.”
‘I am happy to be here’
Sister Kathleen Heffron is a retiree who heads New Ministries in Cincinnatus, working with volunteers to reach out to people who need help.
Her phone number is on the sign outside the non-profit on Lower Cincinnatus Road.
“Right now it’s quiet. I think they are managing OK,” Heffron said. “It’s early in the game.”
Before COVID-19 hit in March, her normal routine was to staff New Ministries and talk to people who drop in.
“The coffee is on. Isolation kills, let me tell you,” Heffron said.
Now she meets one-on-one with a person who needs help. “All of us on staff are on phone ministry,” she said.
They call people daily.
“People that have the time now are very creative in solving their problems. They are very creative in baking and dropping off,” Heffron said. “I think we will have the cleanest houses in the world. Everyone is doing one thing every day. One little thing. One cupboard.”
She was happy to see all the cities of the world with cleaner environments on the news, because people are working less in COVID-19.
“The water is cleaner. The atmosphere is cleaner. There are a lot of benefits,” Heffron said. “We do have a tendency to be blind and stuck in the mud …. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I am happy to be here.”
You never know
“It’s going to be a different world,” she said. “You have to be able to look at the horizon.”
She also looks right in front of her.
“You have to work out your own schedule. Get up, get dressed. Keep somewhat of a routine every day. I will go to the post office,” she said.
She heads on down to New Ministries to get calls.
“Every day, I talk to this woman in the hospital … every day between 3 and 4, to make sure she is mentally good,” Heffron said. “Yesterday she wanted me to get her a whistle.”
She’ll need to signal her husband, on another floor, when she gets home.
Heffron doesn’t think she’ll have the energy to blow a whistle. She gathered up three bells, of various sizes.
She also networked that week to get a wheelchair to a person in need, from one family to another.
“You never know what my mission is going to be,” she said.
Walking a lot
Sherry Nedrow of Groton is a retired “NYSEG brat,” working for the company almost 37 years.
She’s been retired three years.
“I am very comfortable being alone, but I truly enjoy being with people,” she said.
Before COVID-19 she was working out at her gym in Groton, was active in her Groton Senior Citizen Club, where she is president, subbed in a golf league and walked her dog regularly.
“I read a lot,” she said. So she was at the Groton public library regularly. She also does her own home renovations: ripping up floors, painting, some electrical work.
With COVID-19 closures, she is walking a lot. She was able to take the dog to Fillmore Glen.
“The gym is closed. That really sucks, quite frankly. I miss that a lot. I have been finding projects to do home,” Nedrow said.
She moved her workshop from the garage to the basement. She is crafting, is Zoom-conferencing with Groton seniors and is going to church on Facebook. She is video-calling family.
“I haven’t seen my children, which bothers me,” she said. Easter was tough.
“I was hosting Easter,” Nedrow said. But the celebration wasn’t happening.
“I woke up. My aunt had sent a picture of a sunrise,” she said. It was gorgeous. Under it were the words: “He has risen.”
“I started to cry. I had to snap out of it. I texted my sister. I texted a neighbor: ‘I am going to cook one of these hams.’”
She shared a plate with the neighbor and ended up washing the windows, taking down the blinds and washing them.
Learn something new
“Stay busy. Don’t worry. It’s OK to have moments when you don’t feel OK. Reach out,” said Nedrow.
“I think most of us, it’s the people, the touching that we miss,” she added. “We feel bad for people, the high school seniors. The truckers that are working their butts off.”
She says don’t have the TV on all day long. She watches enough to get caught up. Then shuts it off.
“Turn it off, turn it off, turn it off,” she said. “It made me angry before coronavirus. Now it’s made me madder.”
“Plan for the worst, don’t panic, it will go away,” she said of the virus.
“I had a hot date with my friend Cindy,” Lewis said. “We met at Dollar General and parked and talked, 6 feet apart.”
“We enjoyed it … In our senior years, if you are smart, you get to do things you don’t have time for. In my case, I have a backlog of projects I started and wanted to do.”
“I don’t want to go to the six hour course for car safety. I don’t want to do that. I will do that,” she said. “And there are a slew of free university classes online. There are all sorts of things you can learn.”
Write your story
If she were in an apartment and it was totally clean and decluttered, she would identify what she can do at home.
She writes to a friend in a nursing home every week. She has a friend who died and her daughters are having a hard time. “I check on them.”
“Try to continue in some way or develop new interests at home,” Lewis said. “The other thing that’s extremely important is exercise. It doesn’t have to be a whole lot. You can be totally out of shape. You can do armchair exercises.”
Or write stories about their lives, she said, as she did for her nephew.
“When you look at an old person, you see a bunch of wrinkles. Maybe they are out of shape. Maybe they are cranky. They are on your case all the time,” she said.
“But people don’t know what they have done. It’s time to write that down,” Lewis said. “That’s one of those things for their heirs.”