November 7, 2020 by Jean
One 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.