“Sarah” takes a deep, shaky breath, and confesses, “I’ve always been the person who takes care of everybody else. But now, there’s no one here for me. I’m overwhelmed. I feel so lonely. I guess I just need someone to talk to.”
“That’s okay,” I say. “A lot of people are having a hard time these days. I’m really glad you called.”
As a part of The Salvation Army’s Emotional and Spiritual Care HOPEline, launched in response to COVID-19, I hear from people like Sarah every day. People struggling with fear, anxiety, loneliness, and depression. People separated from their loved ones—people who’ve lost jobs, homes, and, sometimes, hope.
Sarah sighs into the phone and verbally paints me a picture of her suffocating life during COVID-19. Struggling with significant health concerns, she is confined to her rent assisted studio apartment in the heart of a city rampaged by the pandemic. Food deliveries are not allowed. Despite her compromised immune system, Sarah takes the high-rise elevator and walks to the supermarket for whatever groceries she can carry. She’s upset and anxious about these trips. But they’re nothing compared with the crippling loneliness and emptiness that fill her days. She has no family for hundreds of miles. And her physical health has deteriorated so much that she hasn’t been able to get out and make friends. She is painfully alone.
There are no easy answers. But there’s someone to listen.
Although The Salvation Army is well known for meeting practical and physical needs, the primary purpose of the HOPEline isn’t to “fix” everyone’s problems. While we make referrals to local Salvation Army units and help callers get in touch with other resources, our concern is to be present with people amid their pain.
"In times of crisis, emotional and spiritual care has been defined as “devoting presence, attention, and respectful assistance to helping people discern what is the meaning in their lives now, in this new environment of destruction and pain, and how they will seek to live out that meaning as the recovery unfolds."
Sometimes, all people really want is to know someone cares.
Every caller has a unique story. I chat with “Greg,” visually impaired and unable to converse with his fellow group home residents. I brainstorm with “Helen,” newly unemployed, separated from a verbally abusive husband, and contemplating her next move. I empathize with “Dana,” estranged from her children and dealing with declining health in her twilight years. I run a computer search for ideas to help “Naomi,” unexpectedly displaced after COVID-19 led to a canceled flight home. I share Scripture and pray with “Laura,” who’s suffering from nightmares and panic attacks in conjunction with her diagnosis of PTSD. And I cheer on “Frank,” 6 years sober and counting, despite the pressures of sheltering in place.
“I guess I’ve been through a lot, even before all this,” Sarah says, worn out from talking about numerous fragments of her life’s story and the effort of trying to piece them all together. “This virus is just making everything else seem that much harder.” She takes another breath, steadier this time. “But, still, I feel better somehow. I liked what you said. I’ll think about it. Thanks for listening. Do you think I could call again, maybe later this week?”
“Sure,” I reply. “Call any time. We’ll be here.”
Our Phone Lines & Hearts are Open
The Salvation Army’s Emotional and Spiritual Care HOPEline operates from 9:00 a.m. through 1:00 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, seven days per week, in English and Spanish. The HOPEline became available across the United States this March, and it will continue throughout the crisis and recovery stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Calls are confidential. The HOPEline number is 1.844.458-HOPE (4673).