SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Nicole Paliotti and her husband, Peter, have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving because earlier this year both saw first-hand the wrenching toll that the COVID-19 disease took on families.
Both work at South County Hospital, with Peter, 41, an operating room nurse dispatched last spring to the frontlines for COVID-19 testing and Nicole an administrative staff member at the time in the Infection Prevention Department involved with planning for a pandemic.
Almost overnight, this couple’s — and their children’s — lives changed.
As healthcare workers, they had nearly non-stop responsibilities, assisting the hospital’s efforts to test those coming through the doors, set up strategies for dealing with a pandemic that hadn’t faced health care institutions in 100 years and serve this local community.
However, at home were their 16-year-old son, Ben, and nine-year-old daughter, Sydney. They, too, sacrificed for the community by having parents for nearly three months spend most days at the hospital helping others, said Nicole.
“It was a really tough time. We are thankful today — this Thanksgiving — that we made it through it, that everyone is still safe and that we could all help others in the community that needed us and help the rest of the staff at the hospital,” said Nicole.
Like healthcare workers and others around the nation – regardless of profession – who give thanks, they reap the benefits of healthier living, especially in this past year of rampant disease unseen in a century, lockdowns and death, say experts in psychology and gratitude.
“The grateful mind reaps massive advantages in life,” Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis and the founder of a research lab that studies the effects of grateful living.
“Health and wholeness, wellness and fullness result from the systematic practice of a grateful living,” he said.
Emmons noted that giving thanks “literally breathes new life into us. It recharges and it rejuvenates.” He defined it as “an affirmation of the goodness in one’s life and the recognition that the sources of this goodness lie at least partially outside the self.”
Nicole, 38, echoed those sentiments recently as she took a few steps back to look at the spring chaos around the pandemic.
Sending the lives of herself and her family into an orbit never imagined, she said many of the experiences also gave her an deeper sense of even small things in life to be thankful for.
One of those instances came with a knock at the door of her home one day.
She found on her doorstep a bag with a book and some activity games for her daughter who was spending everyday alone with her brother doing her required distance learning lessons because classrooms were shut.
Until just a few years earlier, Nicole had been a stay-at-home mom working from the house in a different job. The kids were accustomed to having her around.
Nicole now was working 10-hour days, usually seven days a week. Peter was working eight-hour days Monday through Friday, with weekends off when both children might get time with only him.
“It was so stressful. It was not easy for parents taking care of kids at home and we couldn’t even be there,” she said in a voice with some lingering sadness as it trailed off.
It also became a lonely time for the children as well.
“It was so very nice to see that gift. It put a smile of her face. She was just excited. It’s exciting for a little kid to get an unexpected gift, especially during COVID,” said Nicole about this package from Wakefield’s Busy Buddies Foundation.
As charitable foundations go, Busy Buddies is small, but makes large differences through contributions to the lives of local children. The foundation pays for various needs whether lessons or activities and, as in Sydney’s case, sometimes just lets them know there is a community watching out for them.
“It made me feel happy to get a surprise gift because I was missing my friends and was spending a lot of time alone,” Sydney told The Independent this week.
She was one of a hundred or more young children who received a gift as part of this outreach when the pandemic started, said Rachel Clough, foundation president.
Her group collected the names of children from schools and elsewhere, titles of books they might like to read and some fun activities they may enjoy. It then bought these items and packaged them up for delivery around South Kingstown and Narragansett.
Clough, who founded Busy Buddies six years ago, said, “I’m a firm believer that we can all always do something. Our community and the issues around this disease just called out for some action.”
Nicole and Peter agreed, especially since health care workers are some those who sprang into action.
“It gave Sydney something to do,” Nicole said. “It was just so thoughtful because it was lockdown and she couldn’t do much and I’m just so thankful that someone thought about us.”
They also said that the entire experience made them thankful for having a close community as well as family.
“I am thankful that my family has not lost anyone to this awful disease, that my kids are healthy and were able to persevere through a very difficult time, and for my incredible husband who is and always has been a wonderful partner,” she said.
In addition to the support and commitment from his wife, Peter said the experience has also made him “thankful for my kids and the love that they have for one another, even if they drive each other crazy. If they weren’t so close, we wouldn’t have gotten through this.”
Watching her parents gave young Sydney insight about the important parts of life in this world she will inherit, she said.
“I am thankful for my family, friends, a warm roof over my head, food, and that I am not sick,” she said.
Her brother Ben said he, too, was thankful for “my family, friends and to finally be getting my driver’s license this week.”