One Hell of a Year


November 7, 2020 by Jean

Annus Horribilis Latin for Horrible Year - Annus Horribilis - Sticker | TeePublicOne piece of retirement advice I don’t remember getting was to expect the unexpected. I think I imagined a more planned, structured and routine retirement life than I am living. Certainly, nothing about this year has seemed planned, structured or routine.

I’m usually a fairly upbeat person, but at the end of last week, I found myself experiencing a sense of impending doom. It wasn’t just the election, I realized, or the suddenly rising numbers of Covid-19 infections in Maine; it was also the one-year anniversary of the morning I received a call from the Emergency Department of Maine Medical Center telling me that my friend Joyce was there, a call that turned my life topsy-turvy and perhaps foreshadowed our annus horribilis. Joyce never went home again. From the emergency department, she went to an overnight stay in the hospital, from there to a rehabilitation facility where both her physical and mental condition steadily deteriorated, and finally to a nursing home. Trying to sort out her financial affairs and make arrangements for her care was exhausting.

On March 11, I went to visit Joyce at the nursing home, as I normally did once or twice a week. She had been there for almost three months, with both good periods and bad periods. I almost didn’t go visit her that day: It was my birthday, the visits were often stressful, and I was tempted to do something to pamper myself instead. I’m so glad that I didn’t give in to that temptation, because I never saw her again. On my way home that day, I heard on the radio that the World Health Organization had declared a global pandemic, and I learned from the clerk in a store that Maine’s first case of Covid-19 had just been diagnosed. The next morning, the nursing home called to let me know that they were closing their doors to all visitors. Less than two months later, Joyce was dead. While she didn’t die with Covid-19, I think the disruptions created by the pandemic hastened the deterioration of her condition and her subsequent death.

Five months later, I am still trying to get her affairs in order, now as executor of a will that turned out to be unexpectedly complicated. In the weeks after her death, I arranged for her cremation, collected all her personal belongings from the nursing home, and hired a lawyer to help me with the estate. I figured out how to continue paying her bills during the three months between her death (when my Power of Attorney became invalid) and receiving my official “letters of authority” to act on behalf of her estate. I worked with her out-of-state brothers to plan and organize an online memorial service. Now I visit her house one day a week, slowly working through the material remains of a life well lived in preparation for putting the house on the market next year.

The pandemic has added an extra layer of complication and isolation to all of this. Not only couldn’t we have a memorial service for Joyce at her house; I can’t organize a work party to help clean the house out or a gathering of friends to distribute mementos. Having finished clearing most of the clothing out of the house, I am inviting friends, one at a time and with careful masking and distancing, to choose mementos from among Joyce’s wonderful collection of hand-knit sweaters. I also expect to distribute some of her other belongings as remembrances, but the logistics are challenging. Working with professionals to get the house prepared for sale and sold will also be extra-complicated.

Although I know that we must all move forward from here – that we can’t go back to where we were before – I dream about a time when my life will return to some semblance of normal and this hell of a year will be over.

15 thoughts on “One Hell of a Year

  1. Jean R. says:

    The results of the election takes a huge weight off my shoulders with the promise of a return to decency and decorum returning to the White House. It’s been a hard election cycle on a lot of us.

    I’m shocked you still have stuff up in the air regarding your friend’s estate. I can’t imagine coping with that on top of grieving plus the pandemic and the election. Fingers crossed we all have a brighter 2021.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, The pandemic really slowed down the legal probate process. It took a month after my friend’s death for the death certificates to arrive, and another two months after that before I got my official “letters of authority” from the probate court to handle her estate. I also haven’t seen any reason to push myself; my goal is to get her house on the market next spring.

  2. Sue McPhee says:

    I will ditto Jean R.’s remarks. I am so sorry you are grappling with so much right now after what you have been through this past year. May things begin to ease up for you and you get a chance to catch a breath. You have always been a strong woman. But there’s only so much one can take.
    Sending you peace, calm, serenity and happier times.

    • Jean says:

      Sue, I’ve always been more of a tortoise than a hare, and that’s how I’m handling this, too. I find it much less stressful to handle Joyce’s estate if I just take a “slow and steady wins the race” approach.

      • Sue McPhee says:

        I like that! Slow and steady DOES win the race. Glad you are handling it that way. Still and all, it has been quite an ordeal for you.

  3. Laurel says:

    Reading your post just reinforces my concern about appointing a friend as executor of our estate. Actually, we have my friend and my husbands niece as co-executors. It is so much work. I am thinking it’s not fair to ask a friend to take this on. And they both live out of state and my friend has health problems. We have no children or anyone else we’d want to do it. I have heard about private fiduciaries who do this, but I don’t have a clue how to find them and I’ve heard they’re very expensive. I hope we figure something out before we die! I hope you get everything taken care of soon, and relax.

    • Jean says:

      Laurel, This is a dilemma for those of us who don’t have children. I have a fairly large group of women friends without spouses or children, and we all see doing these things for one another as part of those friendships.

  4. Bobi says:

    I feel your pain. My stepdad died last year, then my mom had to have chemo and there were complications with that, plus I was in denial about her dementia and so was her doctor. Long story short, she was living alone, got lost coming home from church in January. I rushed to find memory care for her, got her moved in late February and haven’t seem her in person since. In the meantime, I had to clean out and sell her house in the middle of a pandemic with only the help of my hubby. Did I mention I’m an only child without kids? Yes, I totally agree, it’s been a year! For me, more like 18 months. The stress of the pandemic and the election made it all the worse. I wish you luck with cleaning and selling the house and all your other issues. The hoops you have to jump through as a power of attorney as well as privacy issues, etc. can be maddening! I’m hopeful my mom will still remember me and be able to leave for visits sometime after a vaccine becomes available. Hang onto hope, it’s the only thing we’ve got at this point. I wish you the best!

    • Jean says:

      Bobi, The pandemic has certainly made these difficult tasks even more difficult. I had a three-month period of legal limbo between my friend’s death and my official appointment as personal representative for her estate. The day I was trying to pay the electric bill at her house and the customer service rep at the electric company told me that I could put it on my credit card, but that they weren’t allowed to tell me how much it was (!), I felt as though I had fallen into my favorite 1960s satiric novel, Catch 22.

  5. Diana Studer says:

    I hope the brothers are supporting you? That sorting out an estate is both hard physically, and emotionally.

    One day, you will be back in your choir. Virtual is not the same!

    • Jean says:

      Diana, The brothers are doing what they can to help from a distance, and the younger one (only 70) actually traveled up to Maine with a friend and spent a long weekend going through and sorting stuff in his sister’s house (very helpful).
      My choral singing group had a “virtual rehearsal” this week in preparation for creating a virtual choir performance of the Hallelujah Chorus for the Christmas holidays.

  6. GARY says:

    Hard to fathom Jean and very sobering. We’ve all had a tough year, and your added burdens saddens me. We need to get through this pandemic as my wife and I are all we have here in Maine. I have a pretty strong estate plan, but the thought of the worst keeps crossing my mind with my wife and I. Be well, and let’s hope for a brighter 2021.

    • Jean says:

      Gary, I feel as though we should get extra “degree of difficulty” points for doing during the pandemic things that would already be difficult in ordinary times. One silver lining is that I haven’t had time to sit around and mope. 😉 I trust that you and your wife are keeping safe and well. These rising infection rates in Maine are certainly sobering. (I confess that I had been starting to feel smug about how well we were doing.)

  7. Molly Wickwire says:

    So sorry for the loss of a friend and all that you are going through and doing all this while also going through this pandemic. Stay well.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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