Greenwich Elders – At Home in Quarantine


By Nike Whittemore

When the U.S. went into lockdown with COVID-19, the news reported that the older population was particularly vulnerable to the virus and was the hardest hit, especially those living in nursing homes. Wondering how Greenwich residents who were “aging in place” (choosing to age in their own homes, rather than move to community living) were doing, I reached out to Lise Jameson, Executive Director of At Home in Greenwich to ask if I could interview a few of her eldest members by phone to see what their experiences had been of the pandemic. Four members volunteered for the project and following on are highlights from the final interview featuring Dick Franck, age 84, and his wife Polly Franck, age 83.

The hope is that readers might find themselves in these stories, know that they are not alone, and feel inspired to reflect on their own personal inner and outer journey with this pandemic.

What has been your personal experience with the COVID-19 pandemic?

Dick Franck: “I think the thing that has affected us the most is that one of our sons lives in a group home managed by Abilis, and Abilis is very strict – rightfully so, because any communal living situation has to be extra careful. Our son can’t come over here for Sunday dinner or anything like that, which he usually does. So, he calls us every day and we’ve seen him a few times. He can come to the front door of his residence, but we have to maintain our distance, wear masks and have our temperatures taken. We also have a friend who’s in a community in Florida and it’s like a prison down there – pretty grim. It’s much tougher for them than for us. We’re okay.”

What has been your personal experience with the COVID-19 pandemic?

Polly Franck: “In terms of my own experience in this quarantine, it really hasn’t been so bad. Of course, there’s this kind of anxiety about this virus and what will happen in the future, but I think that’s true for everybody. We’re fortunate that there’s two of us, so we’re not that isolated. I find that we’ve really enjoyed the backyard and the bird feeder and more time appreciating little things because we’re sort of stuck here. We can still walk around the block and putter in the garden, but I do think we’re more appreciative of our environment and thankful that we have each other, the At Home in Greenwich organization, and the people we’ve met through it.”

How have you spent your time in quarantine?

Dick Franck: “Polly’s always been a gardener and now I’m helping her. And I’m a member of the Old Greenwich Yacht Club and have volunteered the last few years in helping them get a couple of boats ready to be launched. I also have a rowboat, so I’ve gone rowing. And of course, we’ve been dragged into the 21st century with Zoom like crazy! I’m on the Board of Abilis and I’ve gone to Zoom meetings there and I’m a member of the Retired Men’s Association and I’ve gone to Zoom meetings there, too. We even do a Tai Chi class by Zoom! The men’s group that I participate in through At Home used to meet for breakfast, but now we just have discussions. It’s very good because it’s very small, just four men. That’s easier than having a big group.”

How have you spent your time in quarantine?

Polly Franck: “My favorite At Home group is the book group. Barbara Martin and I organize it and it’s such a great group of people. We read pretty meaty books, no romance novels! It’s been a wonderful experience for me. And ever since joining At Home, I’ve really wanted to go to MaryAnn Hoberman’s poetry group. She has written many poetry books for children. I knew about her and wanted to learn from her, so attending that poetry class via teleconference has been wonderful. And every Tuesday, one of the At Home members invites everyone to lunch via Zoom, which is interesting. Also, every week Dr. Stephanie Paulmeno, an At Home member and Advisory Board member, gives people an opportunity to call in and ask questions about the pandemic. She’s very knowledgeable. So, it seems like we’re busy! We’re enjoying it all very much.”

Has being a member of At Home in Greenwich been helpful to you during the quarantine?

Dick Franck: “I think At Home is a great agency and people should know about it. It’s an important thing because we’re all getting older. It’s a good resource to have. One year, I analyzed a questionnaire for Lise and one of the interesting responses was, “We don’t need the services of At Home in Greenwich now, but we want it to be there because we know we’ll need it later on.” So, there are younger people who join – that’s why we joined originally, too, because we knew it would be good for us even though we couldn’t specify exactly what it was going to be.”

Has being a member of At Home in Greenwich been helpful to you during the quarantine?

Polly Franck: “I feel grateful, really, to At Home because we’ve lived here a long time and of course we have friends, but many have moved away. This has been an opportunity to meet new people and connect with those who have similar interests. I think it’s a wonderful organization.”

Does this season remind you of any other season in your life?

Dick Franck: “When we were kids, we were quarantined for whooping cough or scarlet fever or something like that. But that was way in the distant past, over 70 years ago. Polly remembers WWII and it being stressful growing up during the war, but I don’t have the same memories. We had blackouts then where everyone had to pull down the shades and turn off the lights. I don’t remember that being stressful though – it was actually kind of fun as a young kid!”

Does this season remind you of any other season in your life?

Polly Franck: “I vividly remember air raid drills and the drawn curtains. I have a drawing from when I was seven years old in school before the war was over. I drew a picture of a little girl sitting under a palm tree and right above her head was an airplane dropping a bomb! That memory came up for me, as well as the Bay of Pigs, which was very scary. I remember thinking we should go up to the woods to get away from this and that everyone should have a fallout shelter and a huge storage of food.”

What are your thoughts about all this new technology to help people during the quarantine?

Dick Franck: “Grocery shopping online hasn’t been attractive to us yet since we still feel able to shop for ourselves. As far as Zoom goes, it wasn’t difficult to figure out. You just have to have the app on your computer and then type in the number code of the meeting, and that’s it! Lise will supposedly send someone over to help people with the technology, if they need it.”

What are your thoughts about all this new technology to help people during the quarantine?

Polly Franck: “I’m not a techie. I really should be doing it myself, but Dick always does it. I can do a teleconference, but I just let him do it.”

What learnings or wisdom from this situation would you like to share with your peers and/or the younger generations?

Dick Franck: “I think the lesson to be learned is that hygiene is very important and when there’s something going around like flu or coronavirus, it’s extra important and one shouldn’t be so casual about it. When I was young, I was very causal about it, but I’m finally wising up.”

What learnings or wisdom from this situation would you like to share with your peers and/or the younger generations?

Polly Franck: “One of the things I’ve learned is that we can do with a lot less. And I think the whole country should do with a lot less. We don’t need to go running around frantically. We can cut back on so much and slow down and savor things more. There are some things that are more important than others, such as the importance of being able to connect with and talk to people. I think that’s an important aspect of At Home. If you’re isolated, it must be very difficult.”

Are there any positive changes from this quarantine that you would like to see kept in our society as we move forward?

Dick Franck: “I’d say politeness and courtesy have improved and people are more patient getting in and out of parking spaces. And I think in stores and supermarkets people have been very polite about keeping distance, more or less. And if there is an improvement in minority healthcare due to all of this, then that would be just great.”

Are there any positive changes from this quarantine that you would like to see kept in our society as we move forward?

Polly Franck: “Appreciating the little things, doing with a lot less and being more supportive of each other. I also think an element of kindness has increased in our society, yet at the same time, there’s all this horrible stuff going on. It’s like a perfect storm – how there’s a pandemic and Black Lives Matter with the realization that minorities have healthcare that’s much worse. I mean we all knew that, but this is just bringing it up so vividly that large segments of our population are not really doing well in terms of basic services like healthcare and justice. I’m just hoping that something good will come out of it and we’ll begin to have a little more sense of cooperation, meaning that we’re all in this together. And I do believe they’ll find a vaccine or a variety of treatments for this virus that make it much less of a threat, so people just need to be patient and vigilant.”

So, there you have it. The wisdom of the elders has spoken! I hope that reading these interviews over the last few weeks has helped you process your own experiences and thoughts about this pandemic. I also hope that you are encouraged to engage with At Home in Greenwich and other local organizations in a way that helps you stay connected with others, learn new things and get help when needed. To quote Polly, “We’re all in this together.” How true that is. May these words propel all of us to be kinder and more supportive of each other as we navigate together through these uncertain times.

Nike Whittemore is a longtime Greenwich resident, with a master’s degree in health advocacy from Sarah Lawrence College. She has served as a hospice volunteer, a reader for the visually impaired, an educator with The Eden Alternative, and a contributing writer for At Home in Greenwich. At Home in Greenwich supports a diverse community of aging adults living at home by providing trusted resources and services, enrichment opportunities and social connections.

At Home is a nonprofit organization and can be reached at
203-422-2342, or at www.athomeingreenwich.org.