Tea, talk—and hope—return to long-term care

Chaplain Kosta Theofanos speaks to a resident at Saint Andrew’s Residential Centre, as Service Aide Edna Bishop looks on.
Chaplain Kosta Theofanos speaks to a resident at Saint Andrew’s Residential Centre, as Service Aide Edna Bishop looks on.

There was cause for celebration at Saint Andrew’s Residential Centre in May. After more than a year of turmoil and isolation due to COVID-19, staff and residents gathered in the solarium for the first time for the Tea & Talk Respite.

Sunlight poured through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Outside, trees burst with new leaves; inside, hope was in full bloom. At the front of the room stood Chaplain Kosta Theofanos, whose perseverance and dedication had brought everyone together.

Chaplain Kosta Theofanos
Chaplain Kosta Theofanos

Chaplain Theofanos maintained Tea & Talk’s spiritual support sessions as best he could during the pandemic, but they were either live-streamed or held on separate floors. This gathering in a communal room was evidence that life is slowly returning to normal in long-term care homes in our CIUSSS, which were hard hit by the pandemic.

“COVID-19 created a breach in normal relations. Love was interrupted and has resumed,” said Chaplain Theofanos, spiritual advisor at Saint Andrew’s. “This is a sign of hope.”

The reunion was also a testament to the devotion of clergy in CIUSSS West-Central Montreal. During successive waves of the pandemic, our network’s spiritual advisors worked under extremely difficult conditions—ministering to patients at a distance, accompanying them in their final moments, and acting as intermediaries with heartbroken families unable to see their loved ones due to public-health restrictions. As a spiritual advisor in long-term care, Chaplain Theofanos was pained that he wasn’t allowed to be at the bedside of the residents he cared for—and, at times, lost.

The gathering in May felt like an auspicious occasion. Volunteer musicians on cello and piano played uplifting songs. Chaplain Theofanos read from Shakespeare, adapting the title of one of the Bard’s famous plays and calling it “Love’s Labour’s Lost … and found.”

Residents and staff took turn reading parts, and applauded when the session was over. Many in attendance were moved.

“After more than a year of pandemic, this activity brought tears to my eyes,” said Hetal Patel, Site Coordinator at Saint Andrew’s. “This was one of our many attempts as a team to bring back normalcy—respecting all the restrictions and creating a home-like environment for our residents.”

Recreation Technician Elaine Grant said the Tea & Talk gatherings allow residents to share common experiences. “It lifts their morale and gives them a sense of community,” she said. “Just being able to come into the solarium together after more than a year is a big thing.”

Everyone who attended the event wore masks and physically distanced from one another, a sign that safety measures remain part of daily life. Still, people were able to be together. The benefits of that can be measured by the response of residents like 97-year-old Philippa Moore, who read passages of Shakespeare and clapped enthusiastically. “Who wants to sit alone in a room?” she asked when it was over. “This makes you feel alive again.”

Chaplain Theofanos began Tea & Talk in 2017 at Saint Andrew’s to offer spiritual and pastoral support—along with tea or coffee—to long-term care residents and their caregivers. He was inspired by his work as chaplain at the Maplewood Presbyterian Church in Châteauguay, which has a multi-faceted Tea & Talk program.

He uses current events and borrows from works of art, film and literature to evoke different themes each week. For residents, it can help overcome isolation; for their caregiver children, it can alleviate feelings of despair or guilt that may accompany the role of caregiver for an aging parent, says Chaplain Theofanos.

As he marks the return of Tea & Talk to the solarium at Saint Andrew’s, Chaplain Theofanos said he is there not just for those residents who survived the COVID-19 pandemic, but those who didn’t.

“It is my way of honoring their memory, even though many of us at Saint Andrew’s never had a chance to say goodbye,” he said. “The wound is still open. But our hearts share in life’s goodness.”