‘Strange Times’: Letters Document Covid Lockdown for New Zealand Seniors | New Zealand



A A treasure of nearly 800 letters recording the foreclosure experiences of older New Zealanders has been collected in a University of Auckland research project called Have Our Say. Researchers asked for written accounts of the lockdown to understand how older people cope with forced isolation and to amplify the voices of older people. The authors of the letters were all over 70 years old. Many described the importance of daily routines, their experiences during historic crises, and how they remained involved in their community. The letters will be held by the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Here are some extracts from the collection:

“A forgotten group”

“It was a strange time for the over 70s. One-to-one isolation is an unusual time to say the least, no more sharing smiles, “and one smile makes two,” so there was a shortage of smiles, not just flour and toilet paper! Hugs and conversations were also missing on a daily basis….

This time, I recalled important memories of my many weeks as a young child in Auckland Hospital with kidney disease in 1950. I was confined to one room to begin with, then to a large ward. where I could talk to other children from our beds. Visitors were limited, only my mom and my grandmother. I did not see my father, brother and sister for several weeks until I got home. No exit, but we could look out the window and see male patients in the TB ward enjoying the sun on a huge terrace. “It’s not fair, why can’t I go out? “

Jeff, who suffers from vascular dementia, found isolation difficult at first, especially from level 2 as his routines were all gone! What day is it? Shouldn’t we be walking today? A blackboard displaying the day and date helped answer some of her questions.

Being over seventy years old, we felt like we were a forgotten group, locked away from the eyes and mind of government and society. Keep them at home and we won’t have to face a mountain of problems… It seems that the focus is more on young families and those no longer able to work.

Doreen & Jeff Attwood, July 2020

A letter from an anonymous author submitted to the University of Auckland’s Lives of Older People During New Zealand Closures Project. Photograph: Supplied

“I had to adapt”

“In the past 5 months I have learned another meaning for many words. Bubble, physical and social distancing, a-symptomatic, level 4 to 1 lockdowns, Click and collect, Novel coronavirus abbreviated as Covid or the virus have become topics of many conversations and are still continuing as we negotiate through a global pandemic .

For me, the government has emphasized, based on the best possible information, that older generations are vulnerable. This turned out to be true and the effect of the virus on people in nursing homes, families and staff has been very sad.

In 2019 I traveled alone for 2 months in Europe but 5 months later I fell into the vulnerable category as announced by the government and the Covid guidelines advised me to stay home and ask someone else to do my shopping. With the world now a different place, I had to adapt to find my new everyday life.

Several times during the night I thought of my family who have passed away. What would they have done in a lockdown pandemic? They volunteered to go overseas and fight in WWII, leaving lovers in New Zealand and learned more than they ever wanted to tell me. I just needed to sleep in my own bed and cook what I needed.

From one of the 5 million team. We all have a different story. “

Beverly, August 2020

A handwritten letter.
Some letter writers have thought about the experiences of loved ones during past historical crises such as World War II. Photograph: Supplied

“My time for critical transformation”

” I’m getting old. There are still a lot of things that I love to do. To mow the lawn and stay fit and healthy. Pick fresh vegetables from the garden for everyone’s enjoyment. To rid the forest of noxious weeds and wild creatures. Protect the Manawa forests on the mud flats along the shore. Write thoughts in words that educate. Have a say in how people rule Tangata Whenua (Maori).

Perhaps, for the first time in my life, I am not doing things to please others in the family and the whanau (family). I like it, well, I do things that I like to do without having to think about who I might upset; therefore, lose an invitation, post, funded application, promotion; maybe even a new job! This is my time for critical transformative action; fulltime.

For me, it has been a demanding few months through the Covid-19 infection and the emergency. I want to tell you this: If this pandemic has taught anything to this Tangata Whenua woman, it is that health, justice, economic and conservation systems are racist – and that women and men over the age of 70 will never have a better prospect of transformational change than at this time.

Mere Kepa, June 2020

A painting of a children's playground.
One person submitted a photo rather than a letter. Photograph: Supplied

“My” family tank “was empty”

“I am a 73 year old man who lives alone in a townhouse. I am a retired teacher who still takes 11 children for literacy each week. I have no family living nearby and had to rely on the goodwill and kindness of friends who took care of my immediate needs.

A heart health problem surfaced unexpectedly at this point. The doctor detected an irregular heartbeat, so tests were needed. Atrial fibrillation was diagnosed and 2 drugs were prescribed. After 6 weeks of this routine, I hit the wall.

I started to feel that my “family reservoir” was empty. I’m not good at talking about my inner feelings, but I realized I had to tell a family member that the isolation from the family was getting too harsh. They responded and we started Zoom games reunions, bringing together three families.

During this time, I knew a friend who lived in an apartment nearby. She lives alone and has no family here. When we got to level 3, I put two plastic chairs in the garden and carefully placed 2 meters apart, so that she could pass on the way to the New World. She called at least twice a week to pick up the means and the cooking. As a result, we are now close friends who help each other in many ways.

Helen Campbell, undated



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