Surviving Spouse Corner: Navigating the Challenges of COVID-19

Surviving Spouse Corner: Navigating the Challenges of COVID-19
Photo by Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

By Anne Hartline, chair, Surviving Spouse Advisory Council


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” wrote Charles Dickens to begin his novel A Tale of Two Cities. This quote describes the current feelings of SSAC members, who represent a cross section of surviving spouses. Here is how they are navigating the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic:


MOAA board member Gail Joyce has enjoyed being at home in her new house in Granbury, Texas. She has found yardwork and sitting on her patio watching the birds therapeutic. Her neighbors visit in the street while maintaining social distancing guidelines, and she and her daughter who lives close by share meals. Her church has a drive-in service on Sunday. She misses hugs.


SSAC member Pat Farnsworth is confined to her apartment in Patriots Colony Retirement Community in Williamsburg, Va. The biggest downer for her is no visitors are allowed on the property. Pat has Facetime calls with her children and grandchildren, and numerous telephone calls from friends throughout the country. All activities have been canceled, and meals are delivered to her apartment. Happily, the widows are offering to help each other if they need assistance with anything, such as laundry. She is disappointed her MOAA chapter luncheons have been canceled for April and May, and the Virginia Council of Chapters has canceled the annual congressional luncheon. She believes that when this ends, we will all be more appreciative of what we have. “Until then, it is chin up, chest out, and carry on.”


Micki Costello, SSAC member from Fredericksburg, Va., is coping with “9-11 on steroids” by trying not to dwell on the negative aspects of social distancing. She is attempting to maintain her normal routine of getting up at the same time, making her bed, showering, applying makeup, and getting dressed. She begins her day by attending the mass that the priests at her church stream live. Micki appreciates having time to paint, and she has a virtual lesson each Thursday morning with a teacher in California. She has lived alone in her house for 10 years, and her neighbors frequently go out on their porches in the evening to “see” each other. She has Facetime calls with her son and his family who are stationed in Asia and talks with her daughter and her family who live about 60 miles away. She also is making an effort to call friends. She wants to take advantage of this difficult time to refocus on those things in life that are really important, and she is heartened by the random acts of kindness that Americans are doing every day.


SSAC Member Nancy Mullen from Tennessee is working from home and keeping busy with trainings, webinars, and clients. She is thankful her company has committed to zero layoffs during this time. To keep from going stir crazy, she takes breaks to go outside with her pups, exercises, or sits in the sun for a bit. She is trying to stay away from snacking because she is bored. Her pups are thrilled with extra attention and treats. Nancy believes we all need to take care of ourselves. We can reach out to friends and family, enjoy the simple life, and try not to dwell on the negative. We need to do what we can do and not stress out about what we cannot control.


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SSAC member Capt. Kathy Thorp, USN (Ret), who lives in Maryland, is currently in Seattle taking care of her daughter’s 4-year-old twins. Her daughter, who is a major in the Army, has been studying for her recent exams for graduation from the Uniformed Services University with her PHD/NP. There are some unknowns about where she will work now and day care for the children. She believes the timing of being there is surely a fate from above. More joy came recently when her daughter’s boyfriend called Kathy and asked to marry her daughter. Kathy believes coping involves treasuring time together, leaning on one’s faith, and praying for all who are ill and working in this environment. Lastly, she believes that much like the time when her husband passed, the gloomy, stormy times eventually will pass, and then special graces will be felt.


Barbara Smith, SSAC member who lives in Virginia Beach, Va., used to think if only she had a few days to stay home, she could accomplish so much. She has painted and cleaned out closets and has stacks of stuff ready for a yard sale. Her daughter and son-in-law have been living with her for the past year and a half, which has been a blessing especially at this time. They do grocery shopping, cooking, and yardwork. They found out recently their first grandchild, a girl, will be born in November. This will be Barbara’s 16th great-grandchild, and it’s exciting for her to have this to look forward to. She is trying to stay in touch with the 52 surviving spouses in her chapter. Fortunately, most have family in the area.


Georgie Suitor, SSAC virtual member who lives in California, takes long walks each morning and afternoon with Tye and Sadie, her two Shih Tzu rescues. She gets errands done within current California rules that allow leaving home for essentials. Her community singing group has canceled all gigs, but they are continuing to practice by remote connecting so that they can “keep in tune” until they can practice in person again. Early on, she had to cancel a major fundraiser for a nonprofit organization that she serves as president. There were many online meetings to decide to postpone the event until spring 2021. Georgie believes we will get through this time “learning how good it feels to keep intentionally in touch with compassion, concern, and a bit of humor.”


Cindy Bondi, SSAC virtual member from Iowa, feels like she has been preparing for the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing since her husband was diagnosed with stage-4 pancreatic cancer four years ago. She began then to prepare to be alone and self-sufficient and to think about what she needed to do to be safe and secure in the future. She began to wrap her head around the reality that her married children do not live nearby. She grew to appreciate that she had gotten to know most of her neighbors who have offered help and friendship through her loss. Now she really feels alone. When this is over, the world will go back to some kind of normal and, for her, the loneliness will continue. Recently, she has begun to play her violin again.


For me, the current challenge is navigating a new normal for staying at home in Alabama. My children and young neighbors have been grocery shopping for me, so I have only been out to take tax documents to my accountant. Planning meals, cooking, and freezing have become a challenge. I have lived alone in my house since my husband died eight years ago. I have coped by being very active and not being at home very much. I often have said I was not home long enough to clean out my house to prepare for downsizing. Well, I have been organizing and tossing. Leisurely telephone calls with family and friends have been blessings. Also, this has been a time of reflection on what normal will look like after the COVID-19 pandemic. I look forward to MOAA board chaplain Bob Certain’s morning and evening prayers on Facebook, and my church has had numerous live-streaming services. The world has changed. We must reimagine ourselves in this new reality. I believe hope and resilience will enable us to never stop serving.


If you are a surviving spouse liaison or are otherwise interested in knowing more about resources supporting MOAA’s surviving spouse members, visit


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