Our Collective Trauma | Carol Silver Elliot

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“You live this little piece of time that is yours, but this piece of time is not only your own life, it is the sum of all the other lives that are simultaneous with yours. . . . What you are is an expression of history. – Robert Penn Warren, “Enough People and Time”

I read this quote recently while reading the remarkable book “The Body Keeps the Score”, written by Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD Dr. Van Der Kolk has dedicated his career to working with trauma survivors, those who have lived experiences that run the gamut, from war to abuse to loss and beyond. We all experience trauma, to greater or lesser degrees, and we all carry the imprint of that trauma with us throughout our lives in all respects – mind, body, and spirit.

Robert Penn Warren’s quote struck me, in particular, because of the shared experience that we have all had and continue to have, an experience that has indeed marked our history, this period that I often call “the COVID era”. I realized and believe that we have all been impacted by trauma as a result of a global pandemic, we all continue to have these emotions and reactions in all facets of our being.

Trauma survivors are often frightened and hyper-vigilant in certain areas. They can relive the experience, awake or asleep. They see the world in ways they didn’t see before, as a place they once knew was safe that no longer is. I think all of these descriptions apply to the impact that COVID has had on our lives and, in particular, the lives of older people.

Our elders have experienced COVID as a time of isolation and uncertainty. They haven’t had the same access to information as those of us who are “internet-connected”, those who live in the community have found access to transportation limited, delayed health care out of fear or lack of access. Those living in residential settings, while having their care and basic needs met, have been cut off from family, socialization, and necessary stimulation.

The wounds of the past two years are deep. These are wounds we all carry. The losses we have suffered from family and friends, the people we love who are still dealing with a long COVID, the knowledge that, for the first time in memory, we have all faced a crisis without answers and a medical challenge that couldn’t be controlled, and now can’t be completely stopped.

There are times in life that we all remember, 9/11 and the Challenger explosion. We can tell you where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news. We are, as Robert Penn Warren writes, “a piece of time” which is “the summary of all the other lives that are simultaneous with yours”. In the case of COVID, this “expression of history” is deep, deep and enduring. It’s a part of who we are today that has shaped, and will continue to shape, who we are as we move forward.

Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which operates the Jewish Home of NJ in Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is past president of LeadingAge and the Association of Jewish Aging Services.

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