Residents share COVID burdens: Anxiety, insecurities, and lives on hold 

  • Nicole Trembly of Holyoke pauses in downtown Northampton on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, to talk about how life has changed for her since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Nicole Trembly of Holyoke pauses in downtown Northampton on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, to talk about how life has changed for her since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Alan Bathers of Northampton pauses in downtown Northampton on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, to talk about how life has changed for him since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Alan Bathers of Northampton pauses in downtown Northampton on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, to talk about how life has changed for him since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Sara Becker of West Chesterfield pauses in downtown Northampton on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, to talk about how life has changed for her since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Peter Kubaska of Northampton pauses in downtown Northampton on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, to talk about how life has changed for him since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Claudia Lefko of Northampton pauses in downtown Northampton on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, to talk about how life has changed for her since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Claudia Lefko of Northampton pauses in downtown Northampton on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, to talk about how life has changed for her since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 9/6/2020 8:57:36 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Lost jobs. Canceled weddings, vacation trips, book readings, concerts and myriad other events. A jury-rigged Major League Baseball season, played in empty stadiums. And, worst of all, the deaths of loved ones and friends.

The pandemic has disrupted everyone’s life in one way or another. And with new reports just surfacing that deaths from COVID-19 could top 400,000 in the U.S. by year’s end, the crisis does not appear to be coming to an end anytime soon.

With that in mind, the Gazette asked local residents to reflect on how the pandemic has reordered or disrupted their lives in the past several months. What, specifically has been the toughest thing people have endured?

While a number of Valley residents have sadly lost their lives to the novel coronavirus, none of those — thankfully — who spoke with the Gazette one day last week in downtown Northampton had witnessed such a loss. But some have struggled with unemployment, isolation from friends and family, and an ongoing sense of anxiety.

“I think the biggest challenge has been trying to keep everyone physically and mentally well,” said Megan Pierson of Longmeadow, who was with her three children, ages 13, 11 and 7, to get them haircuts at Bucci, the salon on Main Street. “Everyone has different needs and concerns, so you have to balance all of that.”

Pierson said she had to help her younger children in particular when schools shut down in March and they were forced to take remote classes from home. The new school year in Longmeadow will begin with a hybrid model, she noted, with some classes offered in-person while others are conducted remotely.

“There’s still a lot of uncertainty how all this will happen,” she said. “My biggest concern is making sure my kids will be safe.”

Standing outside Thornes Market, Nicole Trombly of Holyoke said she lost her job in early spring at Haven Body Arts Inc., a tattoo and body piercing shop, after the state ordered all “nonessential” businesses to close. It took her awhile to begin getting unemployment, she said, so there were some stressful weeks worrying about money.

Unemployment finally kicked in, she said, and then she was rehired after the shop reopened earlier this summer. But Trombly said business has been slower than before the pandemic. In addition, she said, “I haven’t been able to visit friends and family.”

“It hasn’t been an easy time,” she said.

Alan Bathers of Northampton, a psychologist, said he went weeks without being able to see patients. He’s now seeing some of them again, but at a much slower pace than usual.

On a brighter note, Bathers said, he made a visit to Ohio this summer to see family members, and while moving things out of the old family home, he discovered a journal his great-great-grandfather, a doctor in the U.S. Army during the Civil War, kept during the conflict. “It was quite the find,” he said.

For Sara Becker, a student at the Pioneer Valley Peforming Arts Charter Public School in South Hadley, the pandemic has meant lost performing and training opportunities. Becker, of West Chesterfield, said an a capella singing group she’s part of had to cancel its concert in Boston this spring. She’d also been preparing for actor training at Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield this summer — also canceled.

“I’m a theater person, and I was really looking forward to” going to Double Edge, she said.

Becker is going into her senior year at PVPA, where classes will be held remotely to start the year. She said she got a taste of how that can work last spring after the school shut down, and by taking an online acting workshop this summer with Completely Ridiculous Productions, an organization headed by Gabriel Levy, a PVPA graduate from Northampton and a teacher and actor.

“That was a lot of fun,” Becker said, “though it’s still not the same as (acting) in person. But I guess it’s where we are today.”

Robert Garcia of Springfield said the pandemic has made him think very carefully of what kind of preschool and child care setting might be safe for his 3½-year-old daughter. He also left his job as a pipe fitter earlier this year because of concerns about his safety at work.

“I decided I wanted to work on my own terms, so I got a license as a general contractor,” he said. “I wanted to have some different options so I can feel I’m working under safe conditions.”

Some have already dealt with getting sick. Peter Kubaska of Northampton said he was diagnosed with COVID in February. He said he was able to cure himself with rest, vitamins and herbal treatments, and that he fortunately did not come down with the serious symptoms experienced by other people with the virus.

But the pandemic has halted the international folk dancing he did on a regular basis at a couple locations in Amherst. “I really miss that,” Kubaska said. “It’s part of what’s contributed to the isolation I’ve been feeling.”

Yet given how bad things have been for so many people, Claudia Lefko of Northampton says she’s grateful that she, her husband, her daughter and friends have been healthy. Her biggest pandemic setback came from not being able to visit her daughter and 3-year-old grandson, Sebastian, who live in South Africa, in early spring, just as the pandemic picked up steam.

“We were supposed to go in March,” said Lefko, standing near Thornes Market.

But then everything shut down. South Africa closed its borders and the flight was canceled, she noted, and it’s not clear when another visit might be possible.

“At that age, you worry about (a grandson) forgetting who his grandparents are,” said Lefko, who last traveled to South Africa more than a year ago.

She said she has no reason to complain though.

“People have suffered so much,” she said. “I’m retired, I live in a nice house with a big backyard, I’m healthy, I can still see friends … It could be much worse.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.




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