'Other people think we don't exist': Seniors talk about solitude during the pandemic

Joan Bethel loves to talk.

 "What do you think, Annie?" Bethel asked her pet bird when Q13 News stopped by on a recent day. 

Annie’s response is usually unreliable, but that doesn’t stop Bethel.

 "If it wasn’t for my bird Annie I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to a lot," Bethel said.

The 84 year-old has lived in her Marysville apartment for 22 years, but this is the first year it’s felt like a cage.

"It’s a strange feeling, almost in jail," Bethel said.

Born in the 30s, Bethel has lived through a lot, including the Great Depression, several wars, Pearl Harbor, even polio, but she says the pandemic is nothing she’s seen before.

 "From 1 to 10, 10 because of its enormity, this makes you feel alone," Bethel said.

Outside of socially distanced visits from her family, Bethel says we were the first strangers she’s met and talked to in length all year.

"Many times I think maybe we don’t exist, I mean other people think we don’t exist," Bethel said.

 Kitty Lingafelter in Everett can relate.

"It’s an emotion hard to explain sometimes, it makes you want to cry," Lingafelter said.

Before the pandemic, Lingafelter would spend everyday surrounded by friends at Carl Gipson Senior Center.

 "I am home a lot by myself, the dog only gives you so much attention," Lingafelter said.

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Lingafelter has a supportive husband but she spends her time alone during the day while he’s at work.

In-person activities can’t happen because of COVID, not just at Carl Gipson but also at Homage in Lynnwood.

"There would be karaoke and ping ping tournaments, it’s bizarre not to have nothing," Christine Vervitsiotis with Homage said.

But Homage is helping seniors in other ways.

 "Cares Act has allowed us to serve 50 additional clients," Vervitsiotis said.

 It’s also provided funding to hire new people like Eric Glad.

 "There are a lot of new things for all of us," Glad said.

Glad spends most of his time on the phone. His job is to talk to clients and support them through these challenging times.

 "These are people who are genuinely alone, they do not see one person all day long," Glad said.

But little did he know that the conversations would be so rewarding to him.

 "It’s an incredible learning experience, they will talk to me for an hour straight," Glad said.

Glad says some many of the stories are filled with tragedy but also hope.

"It’s absolutely unbelievable," Glad said.

Homage employees say you don’t have to work in their field to make a difference.

"Even as something as simple as offering to take out the garbage, that can be a huge barrier for people with mobility issues," Vervitsiotis said.

Bethel knows all about Homage. She’s been a volunteer for many years and when she calls other seniors she tells them better days are ahead.

"Like the weather, this will pass," Bethel said.

The vaccine is giving her the most hope right now.

 "I can’t wait to go the store. I want to have a meeting," Bethel said.

In the meantime, she welcomes anyone who just wants to chat.

 "If somebody would come and talk to us it would be lovely," Bethel said.

 Homage says they are always looking for volunteers not only for their services but they can also connect people to other facilities in need.