In some ways, COVID-19 has been around so long now that dealing with its many intrusions has begun to feel like old hat.

Then there are times when it all feels shockingly novel: this hideous new pestilence that forces us to wear masks everywhere we go, cancels events we have come to love and brings a hard stop even to timeless traditions like Thanksgiving Day dinners, Christmas gatherings and church services. 

For one full year now, men, women and kids have had to learn to adapt in a crazy variety of ways, and life as we know it has changed perhaps forever. 

It came on like a bad dream. 

On March 12, 2020, the Sun Journal published a story to announce the sad news that COVID-19 — until then, more of a distant sort of phenomenon — had come to Maine. 

“Maine’s first presumptive case of COVID-19 was seen in an Auburn woman,” the story began, “who came through the Central Maine Medical Center emergency department in Lewiston on  Tuesday, a hospital spokesperson confirmed Thursday afternoon.” 

Immediately after, Gov. Janet Mill issued a stay-at-home mandate, a concept that some would come to describe as a “lockdown,” which became just one more word to include in the COVID vernacular. 

What followed was a kind of dystopian horror that unfolded nonstop before our eyes. What had been an abstract source of worry a day or two before was now a vivid and immediate concern that would disrupt our lives in untold ways. 

Local hospitals began screening every patient that came through the door for COVID-19. Grocery stores were ordered to limit the number of customers they would allow inside at any given time. Customers were asked to wear face coverings and at the end of April, Gov. Mills issued the first of her mask mandates, a matter that would become the focus of great debate in the months to come, as it did in many other states. 

Most of Maine’s parks and beaches were ordered closed. States began issuing quarantine orders for anyone traveling across their borders. Traditional events — parades, festivals and Fourth of July celebrations to name just a few — were abruptly canceled. 

On and on it went over the remainder of the year. Just about everything about our day-to-day lifestyles changed and now we’ve had a full year to absorb those changes. How are we coping?

We talked to several people in the community — public figures and ordinary folks alike — to ask them how they fared in this, the strangest year in recent history. The results are a little bit of everything, from frustration and loneliness to optimism and even contentment.

While we’ve all had to adjust in more ways than we can count, by and large, the people of our community seem to be shouldering through, and there remains some traces of hope for the year ahead of us. 

Assistant Principal Jay Dufour monitors traffic at the temporary entrance to Lewiston High School as students and faculty leave for the weekend on March 5. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Jay Dufour, assistant Lewiston High School principal 

Breakfast and lunch just wasn’t the same at Lewiston High School during the past year. 

“What I miss most is my ability to interact with all the kids in school during the day, at breakfast, at lunchtime, in the hallways and main lobby,” said Jay Dufour, an assistant principal who possesses a natural friendly, outgoing manner. 

He’s glad that school is being held, even though in a reduced, hybrid model. But at least it allows some normalcy for students and staff, he said. During the first month of the pandemic he worked remotely, but he’s been back at school since. 

One positive from the pandemic “has been the ability for me to slow down a bit and spend more quality time with my family.” He and his wife, Mauri, have two sons, Camren, 15, and Connor, 13. They’re growing up fast. “The time at home with them has been invaluable.” 

He has two COVID new-normal habits he plans to continue when life returns back to normal: “Family dinners at least three times a week, and continue to take time to pursue hobbies that I enjoy.” 

Some of the hardest times in the last year have been seeing their two children struggle with online learning, and dealing with the loss of sports. “Many kids went through this tough adjustment. It was hard to watch, both as a dad and school employee.” 

The brighter moments of the last year, Dufour said, in addition to having more time with his family, have been watching the work of high school faculty and staff “who have worked tirelessly for their students.” 

Central Maine Medical Center nurse Jay Bachelder, who works in the COVID unit, says it has been a tough year. Submitted photo

Jay Bachelder, COVID unit nurse at Central Maine Medical Center

No concerts. No going to sports games. No fun gatherings with — remember? — other people.

“I miss that ability to connect with complete strangers over the joy of a shared interest,” said Jay Bachelder. “How connected you can feel just by the proximity of another.”

Bachelder, 36, is a nurse at Central Maine Medical Center. He isn’t just a nurse, he works in the COVID unit.

That’s meant more than ever he’s had to stay away from friends and family to keep them safe.

“I have always been an individual who has enjoyed my space and time alone, but for the first time in my life I can say I truly knew what lonely meant,” he said.

It’s been a tough year.

But the pandemic helped new and improved ways of medicine to evolve, he said.

“Any time we are pushed to adapt, positive change happens,” Bachelder said. The necessity of social distancing meant that telemedicine advanced by leaps and bounds in the last year. That brought care to patients who otherwise would have been unreachable, he said.

“This time reinforced what it means to be a community and care for each other,” he said. “We saw people band together to ensure the elders in the community had their needs met and allowed for them to isolate early on as safety measures developed.”

When more normal times return, Bachelder plans to continue a new habit he’s developed: designating a certain amount of time each day with his phone and computer turned off so he can focus on something meaningful to him.

His darkest time during the last 12 months was when he had to explain to family members how he was going to work with sick COVID patients.

He told his nieces and nephew that he wouldn’t be available to them for quite a while. They understood, he said, but were scared. They worried he would get sick and die.

The bright spot in the past year was his work at the hospital, being part of the care team for COVID patients.

“Watching so many individuals volunteer to care for these patients at a time where everything was new was inspiring,” Bachelder said.

The camaraderie, the commitment to keeping each other safe and keeping patients comfortable, preserving their dignity, “make them all true heroes.”

Dave Rowe, riding out a pandemic on the high seas 

Dave Rowe aboard his yacht Stinkpot. Submitted photo

When the spread of COVID-19 got serious last March, Auburn native Dave Rowe was on board what he calls his “trusty yacht Stinkpot” heading toward Maine from Florida after a long voyage that took him through an array of American waterways. 

That “slow cruise” up the coast is how he spent the first few months of the pandemic. 

“As the entire world was closing up,” Rowe said, he was enjoying the trip with his wife, already well-versed in staying socially distant after months on the water. 

But when he got home, his money exhausted and his house empty, he found he’d returned to unemployment. 

The pandemic, he said, “completely changed my life. I’m a musician and a singer. And it’s actually illegal for me to sing in public (under COVID restrictions).” 

Rowe, who’s managed to patch together a living while he waits for better times, said he misses taking the stage. 

“I miss crowds. I miss applause. I miss laughter,” Rowe said. 

He said he’d saved up enough money to take a year off and go on his shipboard journey. But by the time he got back to Maine, the money was mostly gone. 

Rowe said he’d rented out his house in the meantime, planning to buy new furniture when he got back. He couldn’t even do that easily, he said, because stores were closed or operating differently. 

He wound up ordering furniture online from IKEA and then driving down to Massachusetts to pick it up a month later during a short window of opportunity. 

Rowe said he’s missed going out to eat. 

“I really miss tasting other people’s cuisine,” he said. 

Rowe said that while for everybody still living in the COVID era “it sucks,” he suspects that when it passes, some good will have come of it. 

For one, he said, he’s sure that many of the people who learned they can work from home are going to be reluctant to trudge to the office again every day. 

No doubt there will be other changes over the last year that will stick with us permanently, he said, including online performances, though they don’t match seeing the arts live, he added. 

“It’s a brave new world,” Rowe said. 

He hopes that by fall or winter, it will be possible to perform before audiences again. 

Central Maine Medical Center hospitalist Dr. Elizabeth Fleming stands inside the Lewiston hospital where she practices. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Dr. Elizabeth Fleming, hospitalist at Central Maine Medical Center  

Dr. Elizabeth Fleming, 50, moved to the area from out of state a few years ago. She counted on face-to-face visits with family and friends “to recharge and connect.” 

Like so many, she hasn’t been able to do that. She’s missed that, plus seeing patients without masks. Masks make it harder for doctors and nurses to have conversations with patients, to understand their hopes and goals. 

“They can’t see my expressions as I listen to them,” Fleming said. “They also sometimes have a difficult time hearing my voice.” 

There’s no remote working for her and other CMMC professionals. “I take care of hospitalized patients, so I’ve continued to go into work every day.”  

The job was taxing and fast-paced before COVID. Once it hit, all the personal protection garb and constant need to change procedures on a dime added to the stress.  

Just the same, the last year has also made caring for others even more meaningful. 

“I’m reminded again that being a physician is truly a calling to prioritize others’ needs over my own,” she said. Holding a patient’s hand, listening to their worries, ensuring that someone in isolation is able to talk with family “are just as important as the medications and tests I order.” 

One pandemic habit she wants to maintain when life returns to normal is regular talks with friends and family far away. She’s enjoyed video chats with cousins and college friends that she didn’t have before the COVID year. “And even my parents have learned how to video chat!” 

Her dark times in the last year were watching reports of so many people ignoring simple, life-saving health advisories — not wearing masks or groups gathering indoors. That was demoralizing. 

“So much emotional pain, physical trauma and death happened around us this year,” she said. “It has often seemed like we weren’t all fighting this together.” 

There have been bright moments too. 

In the hospital, there’s been what she called joy, hope, enthusiasm and celebration as vaccines were developed, approved and rolled out across the country. 

The vaccines, Fleming said, have delivered “so much light into this dark.” 

Eric Samson, Androscoggin County sheriff 

Sheriff Eric Samson at his desk in the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s office in Auburn. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“I miss the roaming freedom — coming and going as you please,” said Androscoggin County’s top cop, Sheriff Eric Samson. “As well as … everything operating full-tilt, all children in schools … traditional sporting events with spectators, approaching people freely in a maskless society.”

He continued, “I have a lot of personal and professional frustrations with things as they currently are, especially with the ‘shaming’ from both sides — anti-mask and everyone-mask people. … There’s no reason to take out our frustrations on each other,” he said. 

“Positives: I hope close talkers are a thing of the past as I enjoy my personal space. I like the use of Zoom, as most conference calls I … participate in have now made use of Zoom and it’s more orderly and productive. I also like the use of Zoom for some quick meetings, saving travel time and coordination of schedules. It’s much easier and more timely in most instances.” 

Joe Philippon, Lewiston police detective 

Lewiston police officer Joe Philippon at a 2019 Special Olympics doughnut-eating contest with AJ Beaudoin. Photo submitted by Joe Philippon

Eating out with his wife and friends and seeing people are among the simple pleasures Joe Philippon has missed in the year of COVID. 

And he longs for a return of the summer “Lewiston Fun and Film”  nights, where the Lewiston Police Department hosts free outdoor movies for children and families.  

Philippon, 36, a father, a Lewiston Police Department detective and a founder of the community movie nights, is looking forward to when people can talk to each other, in person, without wearing a mask. 

Wearing masks during a pandemic is safer, but it is challenging, Philippon said. 

“It is harder to hear them or read their expressions. With my mask on, I think people may think I’m always mad.” 

The worst part of the last year has been not being able to see friends. 

The best has been spending more time outside with his wife, Katie, and son, Jackson, 5, “walking the trails and visiting state parks.” Philippon acknowledges the family found more simple pleasures during the pandemic, with so many things closed down.

“This past summer we went to the beach a lot more than we would have. I hope we continue to do that this summer, regardless of COVID.” Their son especially loved the beach. 

One pandemic habit he plans to continue is constantly washing his hands and using sanitizer. 

But he’s looking forward to getting back to those movies. With brighter times ahead, more vaccines and an easing of restrictions, Philippon wants to resume those summer movie nights — “when it is safe to do so.” 

Silver Moore-Leamon, retired educator, Auburn 

Silver Moore-Leamon Sun Journal file photo

People. That’s what Silver Moore-Leamon has missed in the past year. 

“Being in the real, live, 3D presence of people,” she said. Zoom meetings are good, but they can’t replace the real thing.  

A retired educator, Moore-Leamon, 87, has been  active in several organizations: the Auburn Recycling (now Sustainability) Committee, preaching twice a month at the First Universalist Church in South Paris, and a Green Dot Bystander Intervention trainer. (The goal of Green Dot is to promote civil, kind interactions among people.) 

She used to attend a lot of meetings. Some have continued on Zoom. “Our low-tech virtual Zoom church, without the singing and in-person connectivity, sustains an awareness of our spiritual selves, but feels quite different,” she said. Her recycling advocacy work is on “a COVID-induced hold.”  

There have been some benefits of the last year, she said, like working on her computer, safe in her living room, instead of driving to a meeting on a dark, stormy winter night. 

One pandemic habit Moore-Leamon hopes will continue is the use of technology to replace some meetings. Now that so many more people have become used to meeting through computers, she hopes groups will make more thoughtful decisions about which meetings can be done virtually and which need to be in person. 

During the past year her worst of times have been watching “the deep fissures in our country, feeling the pull toward despair,” wondering if divides can ever be healed. 

But the strange year has provided good moments too, she said. She’s marveled at the creativity displayed in how so many put technology to work to serve others. There’s been lots of regular visits reconnecting family and friends across the country, plus “virtual outpouring of thanks for the frequently undervalued workers who hold society together.” 

Many people have had more time for reflection and are taking fewer things for granted. She’s observed more kindness between strangers, more connecting to loved ones, greater appreciation for “the beauty of the natural world, the silliness of a dog at play. The power of one plus one plus one reassures me that, though the arc of the universe is long, it bends toward justice.” 

Larry Pelletier, Auburn 

Larry Pelletier of Auburn.  Matthew Daigle/Sun Journal file photo

A semi-retired widower, 73-year-old Larry Pelletier says he misses the simple habits he had before COVID struck. 

“I miss normality.” He misses visits with family. “And being able to do what you want without having to wear a mask.” But Pelletier quickly adds that he’s religious about mask wearing to keep himself and others safe.

A father, grandfather and great-grandfather, COVID has meant visits have been replaced with phone calls and FaceTime. 

“When the restrictions are off I’m going to give a big sigh.”  

What’s been positive about the COVID year?

“A good appreciation of the way things used to be,” Pelletier said. “It takes some getting used to. It’s almost like moving into a cabin in the woods. After a while you go stir crazy.” He’s found himself talking to his dog, Chuck, and two cats, Sunny and Cher. 

After the pandemic is over, Pelletier says he’ll continue to be vigilant about washing his hands. And in some situations maybe he’ll still wear a mask. “Even when the governor says we can do what you want, I’m going to be cautious. You still don’t know who’s been vaccinated.” 

His best times in the last year have been when helping others with his part-time United Ambulance job. Two days a week he drives a wheelchair van helping people get to appointments. He enjoys talking to people and “hearing their stories.” He realizes he’s lucky he’s able to get around on his own.

Also he’s received extra love and attention from family who live close by, especially granddaughter Jaci Peterson. “She’s so like Bonnie,” he said of his late wife. His family brings him meals, checking on him every day. “I’m almost like their kid,” Pelletier said with a chuckle. 

The worst times have been thinking of his wife, who he lost in 2019.  

The house is extra quiet. When he’s deep in thought missing her, he finds Chuck, a rescue from Tennessee, staring at him. “The dog senses it,” Pelletier said. “I know he’s thinking the same.” 

Submitted photo

Rachel Rodrigue Nadeau, Lewiston 

For some, being away from family is the hardest part. Rachel Rodrigue Nadeau has a close-up photo of her baby niece. The kicker: The image is actually on a computer screen, which is the only way Nadeau has gotten to know her newest family member.

“My brother and sister-in-law live in Texas. Last April they had a baby,” said Nadeau. “This is my 84-year-old father’s first grandchild, and he has not been able to hold her or kiss those pudgy cheeks like pépères are supposed to,” she said.

“This photo shows how I have been able to get to know her. It sucks, but it’s better than nothing. There WILL be a trip to Texas after I am vaccinated, and my work schedule allows.”  

 

Joe Kutzko, Auburn 

For Joe Kutzko of Auburn, the work-from-home effect of the pandemic offered him a reprieve from the work grind and more family time.

“I get to spend a lot more time with my kid now,” said Kutzko. “It was really hard being a single parent working 50-hour weeks. The past year was actually awesome for us. The only problem is, she hasn’t been doing well with her grades doing the remote learning, and when I talk to other parents and kids, it’s the same for everyone. Personally, I don’t believe they should give up on remote learning just because they weren’t very good at it the first year.” 

Dawn Hartill’s sheepadoodle Max. Hartill was able to get a family dog because COVID-19 has her working from home. Submitted photo

Dawn Hartill, Lewiston stand-up comic

Thanks to COVID-19, animals got a lot more attention too.

“One positive for our family,” said Dawn Hartill, “because of the pandemic, I now work from home 100% and we could finally adopt a dog. One negative: If the pandemic has taught me anything, it is that I cannot be trusted to work in the same room as a refrigerator.” 

John Brubaker, speaker, author and executive coach from Cumberland Center

For still others, the pandemic has inspired them to mix things up and work in ways that were not previously viable in order to meet the new needs of a shaken population.

“Pandemic life 2020 was the best year of my adult life,” Brubaker declared. “I published two books and launched an apparel brand that promotes mental health and donates a percentage of sales to mental health organizations in the U.S.  

“When the lockdowns began I went back and studied what happened during previous pandemic lockdowns in history. During the plague of 1655 Isaac Newton discovered the laws of gravity, optics and invented calculus. During the bubonic plague of 1605 Shakespeare wrote ‘Macbeth,’ ‘King Lear’ and ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ before the quarantine ended. 

“Am I putting myself in the same class as those two geniuses? No — OK, well sort of. But my point is the fact that there is opportunity in adversity. With the mental health of many Americans deteriorating during the lock down I wanted to be a force for good and it was timely for me to focus my energy there. 

“In 2019 B.C. (Before COVID) I was getting treatment for clinical depression and anxiety as well as dealing with several physical injuries — stomach pain, herniated disk in my neck, severe headaches. I was able to put those behind me in 2020.”

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