“I’m just a crazy cat lady who loves elephants,” Cindy Goodwin laughs. She’s sitting in her East Boothbay living room, a hand-made elephant quilt on the wall behind her and her cats, Paisley and Safari, restlessly moving about.

“They are my salvation,” she says of the cats she got as kittens a year ago, two weeks after her son, Eben, moved away from home to train for a new job. “They’re my babies.”

Cindy is a caregiver in every sense of the word, and not only for her cats. A home caregiver for Comfort Keepers of Damariscotta, she offers crucial connections and services to clients in the most vulnerable population segment: our elders.

These days Cindy works seven to ten hours a day five days a week caring for two 94-year-old clients. Her work includes housekeeping, laundry, grocery shopping, personal care, and more. “Anything that doesn’t involve actual nursing care,” she explains.

With responsibility for a population especially at risk for COVID-19, Cindy is mindful about her daily activities. “I’m a healthcare worker—I’m aware of the dangers. I’ve gone nowhere for the last four weeks except my house, my clients’ houses, and the grocery store. I wear a face mask in public. I do all the stuff you’re supposed to do. I do what I do for me, and to protect the people that matter to me—right now that’s my kid and my clients.”

The physical distance is taking a personal toll on Cindy, a self-professed “hugger.”  She misses visits from her 23-year-old son (now a little more than an hour away), having seen him on a nearly weekly basis before the pandemic. “Eben called me out of the blue the other night, and the second I heard his voice I burst into tears. It’s been hard on us both,” she says. “He is the light of my life.”

Crying helps: “I cry when I’m happy, I cry when I’m sad, sometimes I cry when I’m mad. Sometimes I just sit here and have a good cry. It’s a release.”

New protocols for frontline providers serving vulnerable populations make “this all so real” for Cindy.

“I have to be screened each time I go,” she says of St. Andrews Village Retirement Community in Boothbay Harbor, where she regularly visits a client in the independent living wing. “Because of the pandemic they now have only one entrance to the building. I have my temperature taken, I am asked questions about where I’ve been, I am asked to sterilize my hands, and I have to wear a mask.”

Cindy finds her work in the retirement community especially important today. “It’s been hard for a lot of them. They’re in independent living—they’re supposed to be able to come and go as they want to. But they can’t now.”

She is particularly attached to her client at St. Andrews, who she has known since her first week at Comfort Keepers.

“She’s going to be 95 this summer, and I’m her family. She has no one left. I keep her company. I clean up after her cat. It’s important she knows someone is there who cares about her. I love her—she’s like my grandma.”

But even given the added pressures from work and painful (though necessary) distance from her son, Cindy is surprised at how well she is doing. “I’m a happier person than I ever thought I was. This has been an opportunity to either sink down into a deep depression or not. I have chosen not to. I found strengths I didn’t know I had. I’m proud of myself for that.”

Cindy is emphatic on what she most looks forward to once social distancing comes to an end.

“Hugging people,” she says, then says again, “Hugging people. I’ve warned everyone, as soon as this is over I’m hugging everyone. Everyone!”

Conversation returns to Cindy’s passion for elephants.

“They’re the most human animal ever. When they’re walking along and they find the bones of a dead loved one, they’ll stop and caress them with their trunks—they’re highly emotional, and so am I, so I guess there’s a connection there.”

There certainly is.

Cindy and her fellow caregivers continue to find the inner resources to provide crucial connections for those on the peninsula who need them most, offering healing touches however they can.