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Groundhog Days

Groundhog Days

Thursday October 1 2020

The Rev Irene Munro urges us to remember the vulnerable people and their carers who have been left especially isolated by the pandemic.

My friend Eleanor* is a fit and active 70 years old.

Until Covid-19 appeared she was a reflexology practitioner.  She posts a picture of her fruit and vegetable garden every day on social media. This is therapeutic for her, since her supportive family insist that she stay at home during lockdown. The caption for all her photos is ‘another groundhog day’. But Eleanor knows that she really is fortunate as she has family contact and many friends who ring or text or comment on her lovely garden on social media posts. This, she says, stops her going ‘stir crazy’.

A definition of groundhog day is ‘a situation in which a series of unwelcome or tedious events appear to be occurring in exactly the same way’.

All of us have felt this at some time during Covid-19. For those of us who have full cognition as well as a supportive family and hobbies, our groundhog days are manageable though very unsettling. Others we know have endured unimaginable stress, particularly those with learning difficulties and their family carers.

Angus is 43 years old, has moderate learning difficulties and autism and lives with his mum, Gwen, aged 68, who has been caring for him all of his life. For Angus and Gwen, groundhog days run into groundhog months of real distress and exhaustion. There is no respite. Angus is a poor sleeper and is upset through the day without the diversion of the day centre which closed in March due to the lockdown. Being upset, he may shout and repeat himself over and over again. Gwen tries to keep him occupied and active, taking him for short walks if he is compliant.

Gwen, who also has an elderly mother living nearby whom she visits, is exhausted and at her wits’ end. Those at her church who would help to keep company with Angus cannot, due to the restrictions of the lockdown.

As an Ordained Local Minister in the role of chaplain to vulnerable groups in Ross Presbytery, I want to raise awareness of the unbearable strain that those with learning difficulties and their carers are living under. Are our churches implementing co-ordinated efforts to demonstrate support and inclusivity for those in this situation?

At the moment we appreciate that the elderly and those with underlying health conditions are having an extremely upsetting time. Many residents in care homes are particularly distressed with lack of physical connection with their family. Do we consider that those with learning difficulties and their carers at home are having an exceptionally hard time, lacking support and connection, their routine being completely upset due to having no respite? Some have said they feel abandoned as unlike the care homes they do not make headline news.

There are of course many acts of kindness committed by individuals in our community to those in need. It would therefore be hoped that local church fellowships would be particularly alert to those who are vulnerable and the carers and put an organised structure in place to keep those under immeasurable strain connected and supported.

It was heartening to hear recently that a congregation which opened its building again for worship has prioritised inviting the vulnerable in their community. After the first trial service which was open to all, the church made a special effort to invite those who had been less connected through media platforms and who were socially very isolated, to worship in a safe environment. This is a wonderful example of inclusion, especially when it is assumed that the vulnerable will choose not to attend.

The Church of Scotland Guild partnered for three years with Prospects across Scotland (PAS), a para–church organisation which enables accessible worship for adults with learning difficulties. The project resulted in new groups springing up in areas where there had been none. Teams from PAS have kept in contact with their members through media and/or doorstep visits and when it was possible, to enjoy outdoor tea and buns. Deliveries of crafts to the members of PAS, as well as flowers to the family carers have been much appreciated.

The national PAS group has been hosting a weekly Zoom coffee morning and also conducts local group meetings on Zoom now which members, carers and helpers all appreciate and which has hugely helped their quality of life.

It is impossible for those of us who do not have to endure such hardship and difficulty and who have so much more interconnectedness and support through this time, to identify with their experience.  But anything that the local church can do to lighten the load of people like Angus and Gwen in or outside our church community is to be encouraged. While many of us are much less restricted in our movements than at the beginning of the pandemic, for those in the situations I have described, little has changed for them. Their groundhog days continue.

It would be good if churches could share their approach as to how they support those in this area of need, remembering Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 9:8: And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

*Names have been changed