The coronavirus quarantine has caused many ripple effects throughout society. For seniors living in nursing homes and assisted living centers, feeling lonely and socially isolated has been one such side effect.
As a result, people across the country and here locally are writing to seniors to let them know they’re not alone. These “letters of love” have had a profound impact on both the seniors receiving them, as well as their families who have been worried about their emotional well-being.
Shortly after the lockdown went into effect, local author and professor Katrina Kittle asked for support for her father, Truman Kittle, who resides at 10 Wilmington Place in Dayton.
In a Facebook post to friends, Kittle wrote: “If any of you are bored or have spare time, my sister and I would love it if you wrote a note to our Dad. He’s a little blue and lonely and we’re trying anything we can to brighten his days... He loves to read, he loves trivia, jokes, bad puns, poems.”
Truman lost his wife, Katrina’s mother, at the end of January. Once she passed away, he moved into an independent living apartment in the same facility. He’d only been in his new apartment a couple of weeks when the coronavirus crisis began. When 10 Wilmington Place went on lockdown, Katrina and her family were not allowed to visit him anymore.
“My sister and I were so glad the facility was being so awesome and careful and taking such good care of its residents, but of course we missed him,” Katrina told us. “I can wave to him from 10 feet across the lobby, but I can’t sit and chat beside him or go on long walks with him like I used to. It just seemed like too much change for one poor guy to handle.”
One day on the phone Katrina joked, “Are you bored yet?” and he said, “I’m not bored. I’m lonely,” and it about broke Katrina’s heart. So in early April, she made the Facebook post asking for letters.
“The response was awesome!” Katrina said. “Lots of people responded — a lot of people on my Facebook friends are people I’ve never actually met, they’re readers of mine or people I’ve met once at a book club. So, lots of close friends responded, but also people I barely know.”
For nearly two months, Truman has received on average 3-4 pieces of mail a day. People have sent books, poems, lists of jokes, funny cards. One day he received 15 pieces of mail! “It’s been awesome,” Katrina shared. “And he really got kick out of it!”
Lindsey Light, an English Department Lecturer at UD, sent Truman a card and when Katrina thanked her, she wrote, “Writing notes is the one little kindness I’ve found I can contribute in this mess. Happy to do it!”
Another friend, Jim McCarthy, said, “I am so glad that you put it out there suggesting we write to him. In these dark days, it really made me feel good to do it.”
St. Leonard, a senior community in Centerville, sent a similar request for letters to all of its volunteers and Facebook followers. “So many people wanted to know how they could help,” Kelly Lance, St. Leonard’s volunteer supervisor, explained to us. “We asked that they send cards and notes of encouragement to our residents during this difficult time.”
“We have several hundred residents that cannot have visitors and the cards and notes really boost their spirits,” she continued. “To date, we have received over 5,000 cards, notes and drawings. I have been posting many of the handmade cards on our Facebook page.”
The lift these random greetings have given to nursing home residents has been a common theme with every facility we spoke with.
“We have lots of residents who would love to have letters written to them,” a representative from BrookHaven Retirement Community in Brookville told us. “They love getting mail, even if it’s from a random person. Each day someone different needs a smile.”
There are even websites like “Love for the Elderly” to help well-wishers write and deliver these letters of love.
The Love for the Elderly website makes recommendations for those wishing to write seniors in nursing homes. They suggest handwriting letters in large, legible print and to include the full date. They also discourage discussion of religion, if possible, so that your letter can resonate with anyone who receives it.
The website goes on to encourage writers to embrace creativity, and make the letters personal, detailed, thoughtful and heartfelt.
“This is a one-way letter exchange, meaning you will not receive a letter back, so remember that no reciprocation attached is part of the beauty of your act of kindness, and the recipients don’t feel burdened by feeling obligated or being unable to respond,” the website explains.
Katrina said now that she’s allowed to visit her Dad, even though only outside and still distanced, he doesn’t need any more letters, but he’d like to share the wealth. For anyone wanting to help in some small way during this pandemic, writing a letter is a simple way to brighten someone’s day.
READY TO MAIL? HERE ARE SOME ADDRESSES:
If you’re interested in sending mail to senior citizens, here is the contact information for four places featured in this article. We recommend checking with facilities in your community to see if they are accepting letters and where to send them.
BrookHaven Retirement Community, Resident Needing a Smile, One Country Lane, Brookville, OH 45309
Love For The Elderly, P. O. Box 24248, Cleveland, OH 44124
St. Leonard, Resident Needing a Smile, 8100 Clyo Road, Centerville, Ohio 45458
10 Wilmington Place, Resident Needing a Smile, 10 Wilmington Ave, Dayton, OH 45420
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