December 16, 2020

Older adults cope with pandemic, share wisdom

By Janice Evans

The coronavirus has affected all of us in so many ways, but it is most threatening to older adults, ages 65 and up. And as if all the death and grave illness brought on by the coronavirus isn’t bad enough, fraudsters are seizing this public health crisis, and targeting older adults more than ever.

We'd like you to meet four longtime west-side residents and learn how they're coping.

"COVID Prison"

DSC_6172.jpgElwyn Bergstrom survived World War II, fighting in Europe with General Patton's Third Army. And, he survived a heart attack in 1996.

Now, at 98 years old, Bergstrom is surviving the pandemic by hunkering down at home most of the time. His daughter, Judy, lives with him, and he is glad for it. "She chases me around the house and I chase her,” joked Bergstrom. 

When Bergstrom and his daughter go to the grocery store, they appreciate that Smith's offers curbside pickup, and he is grateful for his neighbor and friend, Wayne Murakami, who picks up groceries at Costco for him.

Bergstrom lost one of his sons a year ago. His other son has "a passel of kids," and his two grandsons have "wonderful wives,” he said. Altogether, he has ten grandchildren.

He watches "Columbo" most nights and rides his indoor bicycle thirty minutes a day. This is his routine during what he calls "COVID Prison." He really misses meeting with other people, but said, "You've got to roll with the punches!" 

“Alone, Yet Fortunate”

Maria.jpgMaria Noble also survived World War II. She was born in Germany and was a little girl when Hitler was in power. She met her late husband in Berlin while he was serving in the U.S. Army, then emigrated to Utah as his bride. They settled in Glendale in 1948.

Noble worries about her family. She has two sons and a daughter, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. She said she has a lot of great friends, though at age 93, many have passed away.

Noble is alone most of the time, yet she feels fortunate. She bakes a lot and she's deep cleaning her home. She works in her garden and reads – a lot.

Her son and daughter bring her food and they always wear masks. "I have everything I need,” said Noble. "There are people in my neighborhood who don't have anybody and they have to go grocery shopping."

Her daughter-in-law, who is a "sweet and kind person," got Noble involved providing food and clothing to the homeless shelter for abused women. "They're in the shelter without anything,” she said. "I've taken out things I haven't worn in years and given them to the shelters."

She's also concerned about immigrants in her neighborhood who are less fortunate. said Noble. “They're the ones who are really suffering."

"You just can't do enough. You try to do all you can, but you also need to take care of yourself on a fixed income."

“Maintain a Sense of Normalcy”

Wayne.jpgThroughout most of 2020, 69-year-old Wayne Murakami was still going to work at the Chevron Oil Refinery. Murakami said going to work helped him maintain a sense of normalcy, although he decided to retire in early December.

To cope during the pandemic, Wayne and his wife, Cynthia enjoy taking long walks around their Rose Park neighborhood or going for drives to get a change of scenery. They remain as involved as possible with their grandchildren, but they miss their regular Sunday dinners with extended family.

He still visits his 92-year old mother, Betty Murakami, and makes sure she gets out for a walk nearly every day. She and her late husband, George, moved to Salt Lake City in the early 50s, right after World War II. They wanted to buy a home in the Fairpark neighborhood, but adjacent homeowners signed a petition against them, and even offered to pay them not to move into the neighborhood. Fortunately, the Murakamis were welcomed in the new Rose Park neighborhood.

The Murakamis have two daughters and two sons, and eleven grandchildren, all of whom are studying remotely. He said it's hard on his daughters and their grandchildren, but they're trying to work around it and doing the best they can.

"The more that people do what they should do – wear masks, wash their hands and observe social distancing," said Murakami, "the sooner we'll be able to get back to normal."

“I Just Want to Do the Right Thing”

Anna.jpgAnna Giron isn’t ready to retire. Even though she’s 81, she said she feels “young at heart.”

She drives a school bus, Monday through Friday, for special needs children. She said they’re good kids, very well behaved, and all of them wear masks. “The teachers are wonderful,” said Giron. “They’re with the kids all day until I pick them up at 2 p.m.”

Giron is a widow. Her husband passed away many years ago so she had to work to support their six children. The thing is, Giron loves to work. She’s had many jobs, at times two jobs at once. She has worked for the Utah Department of Transportation and the Utah State Board of Education. She used to drive buses to Wendover and to California. She also worked at 7-Eleven and for UPS.

“I just like to get a paycheck so that I can help anyone who needs help,” said Giron. “I’ve never had a job that I didn’t love.” She also makes time to serve on the Fairpark Community Council Board.

Giron talks to her family every day. She loves to make her kids and nine grandchildren tortillas, soups and stews. She also loves to walk and hike in the canyons. “I like to get in the car and go sightseeing,” said Giron. “That’s a joy for me.”

She so misses hugs and handshakes. “It’s not natural,” said Giron. “It’s kinda sad that we have to think before we drop in and visit people. But I’m really okay with it. I’m getting used to it. I just want to do the right thing.”

Flummox the Fraudsters

Bergstrom said he once got two fraudulent calls in one day.

"The first call, I could barely understand the woman who called because her English was so bad,” said Bergstrom. “She said she had put $400 dollars on my VISA card."

The next call, from a woman who was fluent in English, made the same claim.

"I'll tell you what,” said Bergstrom to the caller, “I'll call you back if you'll give me your phone number."

He called VISA, told the operator what was going on and gave them her phone number.  "They thanked me very much and put their fraud people on the case." said Bergstrom. "I trust everybody, but I don't trust anybody."

Noble said fraudsters call her all the time.

One told her they'd taken $399 dollars out of her account, then they started fishing. "They wanted to know my personal information,” said Noble. “And that's when I called my bank. The bank told me that it wasn't possible for these guys to take my money out of my bank account."

Noble was saddened when recalling this incident. “These people prey on the elderly, and so many people believe this and they get taken."

Murakami simply doesn't answer the phone if he doesn't recognize the caller.

"If they want me, they'll leave me a message," said Murakami. "If they needed me or wanted me that bad, I'll call them back!"

Giron’s encounter with fraudsters is the most harrowing of all.

One of her grandsons was serving time in jail for unpaid tickets. One day, she got a call.

“This guy says he has my grandson in jail in Mexico,” said Giron. “He puts this guy on the phone, and he sounds just like my grandson! And then he says his friend’s father got him out of jail after police arrested him for having drugs.”

Giron said she nearly became hysterical when the guy on the phone demanded $12,000 right away to put her grandson on a plane home. Otherwise, he threatened to send her grandson to a jail in Peru.

She hung up, wisely called the jail, and then called his mother. “She told me it was a scam and that my grandson was still in jail, but doing fine,” said Giron. Now, she says, she doesn’t pick up the phone unless she knows who’s calling.

Advice From Our Elders

"Be alert to anything that may happen," said Bergstrom. "Make do with what you've got and every day will be better."

Bergstrom's goal is to live to be one hundred years old. His family and friends hope he gets his wish!

Noble is a big fan of healthy living books. She likes to say that a kiwi fruit has more vitamin C than an orange!

Here's her advice: "Do things for others so you won't brood about yourself."

Murakami says getting out in the fresh air helps everyone a lot. "It's a lot better than being cooped up in the house!"

He also says that everyone should call their friends to find out how they are and how they can help them out. "It's kinda fun to talk to them and they like hearing from you," said Murakami.

Giron is positive about the future. She says, “We need to believe there will be better days.”

She’s also forceful in her admonition to obey guidelines to avoid the spread of COVID.  “Just try to deal with things; follow the guidelines,” said Giron. “Try to stay healthy – and love your neighbor and try to do the Christian thing.”

If you're feeling lonely, and you'd like to talk to someone, contact AARP Utah (801) 567-2643. They have a program called Friendly Voice and they can set you up. You might even make a new friend!