When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in spring, nearly every aspect of daily life at Matthew’s House changed – for the three youth living there and the staff who care for them, as well as for their families. What didn’t change is the love and care that is at the very heart of this special home.
At first, so many of the things that Jadacey, Alexander, and Austin enjoy were no longer possible: no more visits to the mall, no more movies, no more hanging out at the local Starbucks. It was challenging for families too as they adapted to virtual visits.
“It’s definitely been a trying time,” says Kelly, mom to Jadacey. “I miss hugging my little miss and kissing her chubby cheeked face. It has been hard just talking to her on the phone and FaceTiming.”
Leila, who manages Matthew’s House, says that staff had to get creative by concentrating on activities that could be done in the home. They did lots of crafts projects. The beautiful spring weather in April and May definitely made a difference.
“At least we could be outside in our back yard,” she says. “We made good use of that space, playing games and enjoying the sunshine.”
Jadacey, Alexander, and Austin each responded differently to the challenges of isolation and change. Each one has had to adapt and has done so with resiliency.
A Small, Small World
Austin’s world became very small. Two of his very favourite outings – going to the mall and seeing movies – were suddenly unavailable to him. Despite the disappointment, Austin has kept a positive outlook and he was thrilled when the Twilight Drive-In movie theatre opened so that he could take part in that activity again.
As for many of us, this has been an emotional time for Jadacey. To help ease her sadness, the staff would put on videos of her mom and brothers, which cheered her up instantly.
“It became clear that she was really missing her family,” Leila says.
Visits through the window or in the doorway also helped both Jadacey and Kelly manage their loneliness. Kelly didn’t even realize how deeply she had needed this connection until the first visit was over.
“As I walked back to my car I started crying and couldn’t stop,” she says. “That’s the moment I realized how much (the separation) was affecting me.”
Alexander is a social butterfly and found the isolation very difficult. He missed seeing his family and friends.
“Alexander really had to dig deep but he did, in every way, physically, mentally, emotionally,” Leila reflects. “He has truly been resilient.”
One of the things that made a difference was taking the focus off of themselves and directing it towards the people they love. They baked cookies and created hand-made cards for Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Doing something for their families was a recognition that it was hard for parents and siblings too. Giving of themselves felt really good.
“It’s so much easier to go through a hard time when you can take the focus off of yourself and instead see what you can do to make others happy,” Leila explains.
Adapting to Constant Change
With summer came an easing of restrictions in the province and so life has changed again. Families can come and visit Matthew’s House (with social distancing rules still applied). They’ve got their zoo passes again and have been to the mall. This summer they visited the Sunflower Festival, enjoyed campfires at Cultas Lake, and went fishing at Harrison Lake.
Kelly is grateful for the way her daughter and her housemates are being cared for. She recognizes that it has been challenging for staff as well.
“Matthew’s House has been amazing through this hard time,” she says. “The staff have been so wonderful with my daughter. I know they truly care about her and the appreciation and respect I feel for everything they are doing is immense.”
As Leila reflects on the challenges they’ve faced and the way they have all adapted, she smiles. She also realizes that some things have not changed – it is still a home filled with love and laughter.
“I often tell my husband that going to work is like going to Disneyland; it’s the happiest place on earth,” she says. “I just love Matthew’s House.”