When COVID Hits Close to Home

This is a departure from the blog posts you may have already read. It is personal. I lost a friend today, or at least I just heard about it today. She actually died a week ago, two days after her 96th birthday. Ellen was exposed to Covid by one of her caregivers and died within a week of becoming ill. Besides being my long-time friend, her story about choosing to “age in place” in the home she loved is included in How to Age with Grace: Living Your Best Life in Your 70s, 80s, and Beyond. She was living her best life all the time I knew her and I’m sure long before we met.

Ellen was a remarkable person. First of all, she was a truly happy person with a smile that could light up a room. Second, she was caring and compassionate, which surely made her a wonderful nurse and counselor. Finally, she was the embodiment of equanimity—a word I rarely have occasion to use. She took the ups and downs of life in her stride with calmness, composure, and serenity. I don’t know another human being I could describe that way.

It may have been an inherent trait, but I’m sure it was also the result of a being a student of Buddhist philosophy and a committed meditator. I met her in 2004 when she took a writing class I was teaching at the community college.

Our friendship began in that class and lasted sixteen years. She was eighty when we met. But from day one she was an inspiration in so many ways, not least of which was her sense of independence. When it became clear that she needed some help, she went on a tour of assisted living facilities. Ultimately, she decided to remain at home with the help of caregivers who came every morning for several hours. Observing proper social distancing and wearing masks, we sat in her sunny back yard and talked about her life, the loss of her husband, and her choice to stay in her home. That was the last time I saw her.

Here is the introduction to her story in the book:

Ellen Brasunas is ninety-five. She has lived in the same home for more than fifty years, and she plans to remain there. She has looked at other options and decided to age in place, with a little help from Home Instead, an agency that makes it possible for the elderly to remain in their homes. Ellen has been a nurse and a counselor for most of her life. She lost her husband and soul mate in 2000, but being a life-long meditator has helped her cope with the loss.

Of course, that little paragraph doesn’t begin to describe this extraordinary person who affected everyone she met. It was impossible to resist her contagious joie de vivre.