By Laura Todd
During my final year at the University of San Diego, I had the opportunity to make wellness calls to senior citizens from St. Brigid Parish who were isolated at home during the pandemic.
My professor, Dr. Wendell Callahan, the director of the Counseling Program at USD’s Department of Counseling & Marital and Family Therapy, was a parishioner and reached out to a group of graduate students, like me, to see if we would be interested in making these calls to supplement our counseling experience.
Initially, I was calling Mary, Jim and several others weekly to check how they were doing and if they needed anything. With Mary and Jim, our relationship has continued — even after I graduated last August. While I do not have the flexibility in my schedule to call weekly, we remain in contact on a monthly basis. I have learned so many valuable lessons from them.
Jim has taught me to find the beauty in every day. I have truly never met a man who has the passion and zest for even the most mundane aspects of life. On days when “May gray” and “June gloom” had taken over San Diego, Jim would find the one patch of blue in the sky and ask me if I could see it from where I was.
Jim never let his health get him down. He would get into the ocean or walk up the hills of Kate Sessions Park as if he were still in the best shape of his life.
I find that when my own inner voice is telling me that I’m too tired or too busy to engage in activities that bring me joy, Jim’s voice reminds me that there is always time in each day to honor myself and my own needs.
Mary has taught me that it is never too late to learn, to adapt, and to care – for others and for oneself. Mary has a large family, and she demonstrated ways to show her care and love despite the restrictions and isolation. Nearly every time we spoke, she was coming up with some sort of care package, card or surprise for her family members near and far.
Mary also consistently remembered details of my life that I would mention in passing conversations, asking me about my cat, my paintings, my family members, or events that I was looking forward to in the weeks ahead. To this day, Mary still calls me on special days to wish me a “happy holiday.”
She has taught me how to utilize my soft femininity as a strength, the ways I can honor myself as a woman in a world that may not always provide such grace. This year has been a challenge, eye-opening to say the least. Mary has shared with me the experiences she has lived through or witnessed over the years. And she has the uncanny ability to share her perspectives in a way that makes one want to hear more, with such humility, patience and tangible emotion.
I did not realize just how much of an impact these individuals would make in my own life. I am so grateful for St. Brigid’s and Wendell Callahan for allowing me to provide a service that gave back twice as much as I contributed.
My advice for anyone who wants to help a senior citizen is to be prepared for them to help you just as much. What started out as wellness calls turned into conversations that prompted my introspection, challenged my biases and ultimately inspired me to me grow.