Tag Archives: Bench Gomel

Bittersweet Return After A Pandemic Year

12 Mar

One year and five days have passed between my visits to the elder care facility where I am a Spiritual Care Volunteer.   I last went on March 4, 2020.  I returned on March 10, 2021.  In between there was a pandemic.  Most of the year, I was not allowed to visit.  For a short period I could see people outside, and I did met with one of my people.  But I could not meet with my group.

On March 9, I was two weeks past my second Pfizer vaccine.  This means life changed for me.  As soon as I could I returned.

It has been a most stressful year for so many.   But I think the elderly took the brunt of the stress.  Many were kept isolated, away from their family and friends.  This isolation took its toll.  So many died, so many advanced in dementia, so many suffered from loneliness.  I cannot comment on my people. But I will just say that they faced the same challenges as others.

For me, personally, it was difficult not to visit.  I had been seeing them once a week for over a year.  We had formed connections and friendships.   They even surprised me with a birthday party when I turned 65.  At which time, these friends of mine, in their 80s and 90s, told me how young I was.  They told me I was Just a kid.   Which made me feel better about turning 65, if only I could be as independent as so many of my people.

Six weeks later I was no longer young: in the pandemic announcements it stated that elderly people over the age of 65 should stay inside, be careful because their lives were at higher risk.  In a short time I went from being a young 65 to an elderly person. 

I thought back to my aunt over 50 years ago.   It was summer in the Catskills.  I had run into her bungalow to see my grandma.  My aunt was reading the newspaper.  She turned to me and said, “I went to bed last night, a young woman, I woke this morning, elderly.“ 


What was she talking about?  She showed the newspaper, The New York Daily News.  An article stated that an elderly man, aged 59, had died on a tragic accident.   I looked at her and laughed.  I knew her age.  But I also knew the age she said she was.  “Aunt Leona, don’t worry.  To me you are always 39!”

But I now really knew what she meant.  I went to bed on March 11, 2020, a young 65.  I woke on March 12, 2020, an old, elderly 65.  It was a shock.

My life changed as did everyone.  But I had an added concern.  How would I keep in touch with my people who were so important to me.   I was not allowed to see them.  But I could write.  I started writing letters and notes.  I started sending goodie bags about every six weeks.  Two of my people emailed me.  One sent me everyone’s phone numbers.  I tried calling about once a month.  Some months I reached everyone. Others I only reached a few.  But I kept in touch.

The organization I volunteered for originally told the Spiritual Care Volunteers to not give out our phone number. That was now obsolete.  I gave my number to whoever wanted it.  I put them in my phone list and answered them whenever they called. They needed me. And I needed to know I was helping them in any way I could.

Over the year, some of my people did pass away.  Others moved into more skilled nursing.  At least one had Covid  and survived. I kept in touch the best I could.

Then came the vaccine. My people were among the first vaccinated in Kansas. It was so exciting. I was so glad to know they were safe and their quarantine was beginning to ease up.  I could go see them once I was vaccinated.

But for me it was difficult at first to get a vaccine.  I also have an autoimmune disease, so I was being oh so careful.   I found a spot that was providing vaccine to those who volunteer and worked with the elderly.  That was me.  I signed up on their list and soon was accepted.  I got my first vaccine in early February.  My second on February 21.  As soon as my two weeks was up I knew where I wanted to be…with my people.

I emailed the elder care facility and got permission to visit.  We set the date at my usual time, Wednesday at 2 pm, two weeks and one day past my second vaccine.   Because of my volunteer work I got my vaccine early.  So I intended to make sure I would be with my people.

I now needed permission from my volunteer agency.  I sent my Covid vaccine record.  But I did not hear back.   It was getting close.  To be honest I planned to go no matter what.  The elder care facility said yes, my people were expecting me.  I had to go!

Early in the morning on March 10, I got my approval from the agency.  I was told that I was the first Spiritual Care Volunteer returning to their facility. I was eager to go! Two in the afternoon I was with my people.  Six were there.  I was so happy to see them.

I knew what we had to do. We had to bench Gomel.  I read them an essay written by Rabbi Neal Gold that I got from a website. I read it to them.  In his essay, Rabbi Gold said, “In our time, the spirit of this prayer has expanded to all sorts of other life-and-death situations, such as surviving a car accident, recovering from major surgery, or enduring childbirth…..It is not designed for people ‘who merely with headaches or stomachaches who are not confined to bed.’ Rather, it is only for those brushes with mortality that leave us shaken — and profoundly grateful for our survival.”

 I think surviving the COVID pandemic counts!

So we benched Gomel, even without a Torah, thanking God for the goodness he sent to use to allow us to survive.

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, ruler of the world, who rewards the undeserving with goodness, and who has rewarded me with goodness.” We did the response as well.

We then talked about what happened to each of my people during this time.  The one who spent two months in the hospital with Covid. The one that was lucky because she lived on the first floor with her own entrance and could see her daughter.  We remembered the three that died. We thought of those who have moved into more skilled nursing.  We delighted in being together.

It was definitely a wonderful and joyful event for me, and I believe for my people as well. 

A pandemic year is a year I will never forget.  But the joy of reuniting with others, although bittersweet, is definitely a gift!