Urban elders coping with COVID-19 precautions recommend supporting one another

Denise Titian, March 20, 2020

Shopping early in the morning while wearing gloves is one of many adjustments for Wally and Donna Samuel to avoid risk of transmission. (Submitted photo)

Wally and Donna Samuel are well-known Nuu-chah-nulth fixtures in Port Alberni. The retired Ahousaht couple, both in their 70s, have a large family and an even larger cultural community.

They met at Alberni Indian Residential School as teenagers and spent all their married life in Port Alberni, raising their family of five. They love to spend time with their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren at family dinners and other gatherings. They also like to get together at cultural gatherings like dance practices and other social events.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the couple to change how they do things.

Wally, 73, says he has had a pacemaker since 1977 to help keep his heart in a healthy rhythm. He was diagnosed with diabetes about a decade ago and, more recently, is being treated for cancer.

“Considering it all, I am doing well; I’ve always been strong and rarely get sick,” he said.

The couple likes to stay active and are careful with their diet. Donna says she usually goes out once weekly to grocery shop but has had to go more often since the coronavirus began appearing.

“I mostly need fruit every two or three days,” she said. She went out early on the morning of March 20, at 8:00 when the stores open. “It was the first time I wore gloves.”

She said she beat the crowd and it made for a more pleasant shopping experience with fewer people around.

The couple have children and grandchildren living nearby that would be more than happy to do the shopping for their parents, but they are all at work during the day. Even though they are free in the evenings, they keep a distance from their parents in an effort to keep them safe.

“It affects us; we miss seeing friends and family at gatherings,” said Donna. “The grands come and go but we can’t really hug them.”

Donna says she loves it when she sees people sharing drumming and other cultural videos on social media.

Wally says they would have spent their spring break as they always do, supporting young athletes at the All Native basketball tournaments, but everything was cancelled.

“We will miss it this year but there will be other opportunities,” he said.

The couple is forced to stay home more. Donna says she spends her time knitting while Wally putters around downstairs.

“I’ve been shredding papers from 20 years ago,” he chuckled.

He says he now has time for home projects he’s been putting off…sorting, decluttering…anything to keep busy.

Even though they need to protect themselves from COVID-19 they continue to reach out to shut-ins that are struggling.

“Our home is sometimes used for fish distribution and we freeze any leftovers,” said Wally.

There are a couple of disabled Nuu-chah-nulth men that are running low on food and so Wally and Donna will head over to their apartments with whatever food they can share.

“Today we will go up to Tsawaayuus (Rainbow Gardens) to see if the elders there need anything,” said Wally.

The couple ask people to stay safe, keep distances and wash frequently.

“Chemotherapy has forced me to wash hands frequently already, so I’m used to it,” said Wally.

“We are used to being independent, to do things for ourselves, but this situation is beyond our control,” he added.  “We must adjust how we spend our money and how much we spend.”

The couple asks younger people to check on their elders and those living with handicaps.