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A year of COVID: RTD readers reflect on the last year and their lives in a pandemic
A year of COVID

A year of COVID: RTD readers reflect on the last year and their lives in a pandemic

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For many, March is a month eagerly anticipated. It is month of change, renewal and hope.

March brings warmer weather, longer days, sunshine and spring; it brings March Madness, St. Patrick’s Day, spring break, patios and planting, and outdoor festivals. March is the month we ache for all winter.

But March 2020, for most of us, is the date the world as we knew it changed. Forever.

March is the month that COVID-19 — or the coronavirus as we exclusively called it then, not yet understanding the distinction between a type of a virus and the specific one that was about to upend our entire world — went from being something some people in some parts of the world were dealing with to an official pandemic with tentacles in every part of the globe.

March 2020 is when COVID-19 came to Virginia. March marked the Virginia first case. The first Virginia death. The first shutdown order. The first shift to virtual school. The first Richmond-area case. The first, second and third loss of life in the Richmond area.

In March 2020, 1,250 Virginians tested positive for COVID-19; 27 of those people died. And none of our lives would ever be the same.

One year after COVID-19 hit Virginia, the Richmond Times-Dispatch is looking back at how the pandemic has shaped, changed and challenged all of us.

To start, we asked readers how the past year has affected them; what the last normal thing they did before the pandemic was; when they realized life was going to be different; and how their lives have changed because of the pandemic.

Their stories help illustrate the pain, fear, loss, isolation, loneliness and change we all felt the past 365 days, as well as the glimmers of positivity, hope and even the positive change that came from this year. Our pandemic year.

Here are their stories. (Some responses were edited for length or clarity.):

Gaynelle Morris, Mechanicsville

The last normal thing I did was plan and enjoy a fun friend luncheon/play at Hanover Tavern, which has now been over a year ago. I always enjoyed planning these quarterly getaways with all my buds as much as they enjoyed being a part of them.

I realized things were changing when summer came and most everything my husband and I love to do were no longer possible and the end was not in sight

How has my life changed. Mostly I don’t even recognize it. I am a people person and not being able to see faces, share hugs, do fun things with my family and friends is just not right. Have not seen my daughter who lives in Dallas for over a year and a half. Losing people we know and others being so ill we almost lost them really takes a toll. With the exception of two things I feel comfy about the world is upside down and scary. Being retired and in pretty good health, our trips have now ceased to exist and if we ever get back to feeling OK about flying, staying in hotels, enjoying fun places who knows we may be past our time and not able to do this any longer.

Jerri Stone, Henrico

Working in an office with other people was the last normal thing I can remember.

Patsy Headley, Chesterfield

I used to keep my youngest grandson while his parents worked. I had been keeping him since he was 3 months old (he will be 4 years old this year). It was a tremendous change to not see him every day, and we haven’t seen our other grandchildren much at all, either. My husband retired in April 2020, and we had hoped to go on more vacations, too, but that hasn’t happened. Our holidays are normally filled with our kids and grandkids, nieces and nephews, but we couldn’t have a family Christmas this year. And our neighborhood pool didn’t open last summer. We are hoping this summer to return to normal. It’s been a depressing year in many ways.

Tiara Mallory, Nashville, Tenn.

The last normal thing I did was go barhopping for Shamrock the Block on March 14. The following weekend we were in Phase One of lockdown and my job had issued essential worker letters in case we were pulled over — that’s when I realized how drastically things had changed. While COVID-19 has certainly changed a lot, I still made the decision to relocate to Nashville. I’ve been here almost 6 months now and so glad I decided to move! I am most excited to attend a concert once the pandemic comes to an end.

Emily L. McArthur, Richmond

With 80 others, I worked for the music venue The National. We loved it, heard the best music and had the best team. Going to work was a pleasure. I’ve never had a job where co-workers are legitimately excited to see each other every night. The people laid off include management, production crew, box office, bartenders and kitchen staff, artist relations and security. I was full time in live music and pursuing the career path of festival logistics.

Todd Tyson, Ashland

I retired, after 30 years of federal service at various agencies, from Defense Logistics Agency at Defense Supply Center Richmond on April 30, 2020. I’d already been mostly teleworking, so the transition to 100% teleworking was seamless. My biggest worry at the time was whether there would be anyone at the Office of Personnel Management to process my paperwork, but my retirement went off without a hitch.

The eeriest thing was going back to the base to return my laptop and pick up my belongings at my desk. The building (and by extension the base itself in many ways) was dark, empty and silent. No one to say goodbye to, as I exited a place where I’d spent most of my career — advancing goals, accomplishing milestones and missions — and met friends.

Wendell D. Casey, Dumbarton

March will be one year (like doing a 12-month military short tour), that week we realized things weren’t going well at all. The last normal thing I did was going to the gym the day prior; “we” haven’t been anywhere except 1 time a week grocery shopping and a ‘ride to anywhere/somewhere.” [On] fears/changes? We can’t visit friends, family or go places. We have supported locally-owned restaurants by ordering in, but that’s about it. BTW, I have had my second shot, last week. Spouse, next week.

Sharon Cole Berg, Mechanicsville

I had a small party of friends at my place the last Saturday of February 2020. Then everything started shutting down. I knew when schools stayed out for the remainder of the year that things were changing. My life as a musician changed — performances canceled, some work shut down, started teaching music lessons from home. My mom experienced neglect and roach infestation in her assisted living place while they were shut down and we moved her, which was very difficult during a pandemic.

Mo Karnage, Louisa

The last thing I did was take my then-3 year-old to the movies for their first time with friends. We saw “Sonic the Hedgehog” at Movieland and had popcorn and it was pretty special, more so now that we haven’t been able to go back. I lost two grandparents now during COVID, not from it, but not getting to see them and have them spend time with their great-grandkid in the months before their deaths because of COVID really sucks.

Sheryl Courter Marencik, Glen Allen

My daughter and husband went to the Richmond ComicCon when my daughter came home from college for spring break. She went back to school, and two weeks later, she called to tell us she needed to come home immediately, as the college was basically kicking them out in 48 hours. Since the day she came home ... March 13, we have not gone anywhere except the grocery store, Target, Michaels or food pickup/delivery. Our daughter has not been back to school, instead doing all classes online. She is signed up to return to campus, next fall, depending on if she can get the vaccine.

Laura Beth Noel, Louisa

Take family pictures.

Kim Bonner, Glen Allen

I honestly can’t remember the last “normal” thing I did pre-pandemic. I already have an autoimmune disease that approximates many of the symptoms of COVID and am on oxygen because of it, and have to be careful of catching colds and flu. I was paying attention to COVID and began putting ducks in a row before we got our first reported case in Virginia, making sure the pantry was stocked, cleaning supplies were available, prescriptions filled, and all that.

Our youngest daughter was a high school senior, and it had been singing around for a couple of weeks that schools might close, and her teachers had been discussing contingency plans. When the announcement came on a Thursday night that schools would be closed for two weeks starting on Monday, she told me she didn’t see any reason for her to go in on Friday. I told her not to expect to go back to school before the end of the year.

After COVID hit and New York became so inundated with cases, my husband and I finally got around to making the wills and powers of attorney that we had been meaning to do for over 25 years. It suddenly felt urgent, and it was a relief to have it finally done. My entire household has been fully vaccinated now, and we’re awaiting my mother’s return from three weeks in the hospital/rehab with a bout of COVID. We are still following all of the precautions, though, and will be for some time. My mother and I are both high-risk, and there is too much at stake.

Joanne Mahoney-Consorte, Chester

I have a day care, and my parents either stopped working or worked remotely. I was shut down from March 12 (when I knew my life was changing) till the end of June. My husband and I followed CDC guidelines and stayed home as much as possible, but did do outdoor things. He still worked. Still haven’t been in a restaurant or others’ homes except my daughters (in my bubble). We mask up when we go out.

For a while, only my husband went to the grocery store. I’ve not been able to see my sister who lives in an assisted living facility. I know the seriousness of COVID, and realize it may affect some worse than others and cause death. I know nurses, families, friends, etc. who have suffered and lost loved ones. The pandemic unemployment alleviated the financial burden.

Lisa Coffey, Chesterfield

I am a music teacher and the last thing I did before the pandemic was have a talent show with my kiddos at school. A week later we were on lockdown, and I have not been able to have kids sing or play wind instruments at school. I miss children singing together so much. I knew it was serious when you couldn’t find bleach or meat at the store and my family had to ration toilet paper. Can’t wait to see live music with friends and visit family when this is over.

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