Tendercare Living Centre protest
3 Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay
close by me for ever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in your tender care,
and fit us for heaven, to live with you there.
Away in a Manger Voices - United 69
We were rattled when in-person Easter worship was cancelled in 2020, but we all assumed that by Christmas the coronavirus would be under control, if not eradicated. That simply wasn't the case, and many of us missed attending a Christmas Eve service for the first time in our lifetimes. It also meant that we didn't sing what are "comfort food" carols, including Away in a Manger. Of course the circumstances of Jesus' birth were fraught with danger and he squalled and cried like any other newborn. But the hymn, using either tune, speaks to us of God's love and tenderness through the mystery of the incarnation.
The phrase of the final verse, "in your tender care" keeps emerging in my mind as I hear about the tragedy of the long-term care facility in Scarborough called Tendercare Living Centre. It is actually a focal point for death, with more than 60 residents who have succumbed to COVID-19, despite government promises after the first wave of the virus that an "iron ring of protection" (who comes up with these jingoistic phrases?) would be put in place around these facilities. The reality is that our most vulnerable seniors are dying in droves across the province, by far the greatest number of fatalities. In Scarborough family members of the dead and the living have staged rallies and protests outside Tendercare, demanding better resources and answers.
What has transpired over the past ten months is shameful, but it really isn't new in terms of how we treat our elders. When I was a seminary students in my early twenties I conducted worship services in a decrepit nursing home in trendy Yorkville where the conditions for residents were terrible. My wife Ruth and my musician mother, then in her fifties came with me, and we were all disturbed by what we saw. My Mom expressed her hope that she would never have to experience what she witnessed there.
I'm glad to say that the facilities in which my mother lived during the last years of her life were infinitely better, and she received excellent care in the nursing home where she died. That facility has avoided an outbreak, but I wonder how it might have coped if COVID had found its way in, and the helplessness we would have felt if we couldn't visit or provide support.
Currently more than 200 long-term facilities in Ontario, or roughly a third of the total in the province, are experiencing outbreaks of COVID. This is not "tender care" and we need government to develop strategies to address what may actually worsen.
As Christians who care about the quality of life for our most vulnerable, we can be prayerful, mindful, and pro-active in our expectations for a response which will save lives.