How do we care for others without being physically present?
So much of what we do in the care ministry involves physical presence. We make eye contact, hug, listen to their words, and pick up on non-verbal cues. We witness the raw emotions of grief and loss and bear witness to their suffering.
In response, we send flowers, bring food, and pray together. We meet people at hospitals, churches, and their homes. And we gather for worship, weddings, and funerals.
But in the current situation, as caregivers, we cannot do these things. Sheltering in place and social distancing limit travel and the number of people who can gather together. At our most vulnerable moments, it can be dangerous to be alone.
As we face our current circumstances, we need to be aware that our inability to be physically present is not a new problem.
Care-giving without physical presence is nothing new.
Prior generations have faced their own unique set of problems communicating and demonstrating care.
Limited by geography, our earliest ancestors had limited and slow communication with people outside their communities.
Wars, plagues, natural disasters, illness, closed borders, financial resources, and time off work are common obstacles they faced. Does this sound familiar?
How did prior generations provide care without being physically present, and how can we do this today?
Care-giving without physical presence involves writing letters, making phone calls, and interacting with others through video meetings and social media.
We can care for others by writing letters.
Writing personal letters is a necessity in the current environment. A physical note of encouragement is a tangible expression of care. Often a hand-written letter or homemade card is valued more than we purchase.
I have a corkboard of cards and letters I have received through the years. Each of these cards and letters reminds me that someone cares for me. They are an encouragement in tough times.
But writing a letter can be a challenge if you are out of practice.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to write a letter to a friend.
The best part of writing a letter is sending it to the other person. Most of us like to have written, not to write. So, please take a moment and imagine how the individual will feel when they receive your message, which will motivate you to finish. Remember, it does not have to be perfect. It is the thought that counts.
We can care for others by making phone calls.
As Americans, we have a love-hate relationship with our phones. We experience joy when speaking to our loved ones and friends, but curse the day Alexander Bell was born when we receive spam calls.
It is challenging to communicate warmth on a telephone call. First, because the other party can’t see us, they cannot pick up on any non-verbal cues to ascertain our mood. Second, the phone call may suffer from a bad connection or background noise. Third, we may have called at an inconvenient time.
So, how can we communicate warmth using just our voice? Here are a few suggestions.
- Determine to be cheerful. It may be a difficult time for the individual you are calling. Please do what you can to uplift and encourage them in the call and make yourself smile while you talk. It will come through on the call.
- Be courteous and ask if this is a convenient and acceptable time to talk.
- Have a plan. What do you hope to accomplish on the call? Encouragement? Information?
- Focus on brevity. Like a great entertainer, you should always leave them wanting more of you, not less.
- Remember that taking time to listen can be more important than talking. Try restating what the person has said to you periodically to let them know you understand what they mean.
We can care for others by interacting with them through video meetings and social media.
We take the technologies we use to communicate for granted, forgetting the initial resistance that the telegram, telephone, and internet received.
Here are a few items that we routinely use that were ridiculed when introduced: light bulbs, coffee, airplanes, umbrellas, personal computers, taxis, and vaccines.
Light bulbs, coffee, airplanes, umbrellas, personal computers, taxis, and vaccines are a few examples of everyday items mocked when first introduced.
But all of these inventions were accepted when the public recognized the personal benefit they provided.
Some people are reluctant to use video meetings and social media. We can overcome these objections by showing them a direct benefit in using these tools.
The benefit of video meetings.
My mother embraced video meetings when our daughter moved to South Korea to teach English. I will never forget the morning in 2011 that I surprised my mother with a live Skype video conference with her granddaughter. My mother saw the benefit of the technology and learned to use Skype.
Recently, my mother was able to video conference with her almost 3-month-old great-granddaughter and additional family members using Zoom Meeting. My mother is in her eighties and embraces new technologies because it allows her to see her great-granddaughter in real-time.
And like many others, I have spent the last several days in Zoom meetings. I have been surprised by the joy I have experienced in seeing other people’s faces.
Video meetings can bring warmth and community if utilized correctly.
The benefit of social media.
Keeping up with everyone can be exhausting for an introvert. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who is hesitant to interact with others on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
But as a caregiver, it is vitally important to be present. Individuals will forget to tell you that they have a scheduled surgery or assume that you already know about it.
I routinely find out about sickness, operations, and deaths on social media that I would otherwise miss.
As caregivers and Christ-followers, we have the opportunity to interact and influence the culture for good.
Using social media will be messy and sometimes uncomfortable. Our interactions should be positive, winsome, and humble. We can grant grace without shame, express hope, discourage panic, and extend an invitation to join our community.
We must not leave anyone behind. Intentional contact is necessary to counter the effects of isolation. But the, continued follow-up is essential and often neglected.
We can schedule initial contact and follow-up using a physical or digital calendar. I use Google Calendar for initial contact and the Covve app to remind me to follow up with others periodically. The Covee app has a free option.
As you write letters, make phone calls, and interact through social media and video conferencing, please consider additional ways you can make a difference. During the coronavirus pandemic, our continued charitable giving to support food banks and blood drives is critical.
What can you do for the person experiencing unbearable grief?
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