Missing Ms. Lea

“I had hoped all of this would bring us all together.” It was a sad statement in the midst of a sad situation. Especially coming from a ninety-two year old lady in an assisted living facility.

Ms. Leatrice Collins has been a special part of our family’s life for many years. She was my daddy’s “lady friend” for several years until he passed away nine years ago. (Has it been that long?) She has continued to be close to us, coming to our family gatherings when she could. And often, when we were in Dunn, we would stop by to visit Ms. Lea.

To know Ms. Lea is to like her. She always seems to be uplifting even when things weren’t that uplifting. She will let you know what she thinks, but not in a negative or degrading way. And she has lots of good stories, and she loves to tell them.

Ms. Lea is an independent person, and got along well as she aged. But over the past couple of years, things became more difficult for her. Friends and neighbors helped out. Ms. Lea was doing pretty well for a person in their nineties, and she was living by herself. But her daughter, who lives in Virginia, was justly concerned for Ms. Lea’s health and safety. So the hard decision was made for Ms. Lea to relocate to an assisted living center in Virginia Beach, near her daughter.

So, a few months ago, the move was made. Ms. Lea was not thrilled about the move from her home in Dunn, but she knew it was necessary and she accepted it. The facility where she located is really nice. And Ms. Lea, as she always has done, had decided to make the best of it.

I’ve missed Ms. Lea. I’ve phoned her several times since she has been gone. Our conversations have been long. (Did I mention that she loves to talk?) Terri and I were planning to make a trip up to see her sometime this spring. Then along came the coronavirus.

Now Ms. Lea is in her room all the time, unable to mingle with all the other residents, whom she was just getting to know. Like assisted living centers everywhere, visitors are no longer allowed, as the center is doing whatever it can to keep the coronavirus away from its elderly residents.

I phoned Ms. Lea last week to see how she was doing. She was about as upbeat as anyone could expect, considering her situation. (She had a much more positive attitude than I would have had if I were in her position.) She said the food there was good, except they don’t season it quite the way she would. I guess they must not use much fatback. Like everyone else she has been watching the news, which has been dominated by the coronavirus outbreak.

We started talking about the virus, her situation, how the virus is affecting us around here, and seemingly everybody. Then the conversation went to how everyone seems to be blaming everyone else. That’s when she said to me, “I had hoped all of this would bring us all together.”

But sadly, the coronavirus is not bringing us together. If anything, it is further separating us. The medical community versus the economic community. Big urban cities versus the more rural areas. The essential versus the non-essential, and almost everyone versus whoever makes that determination. And yes, Trump supporters versus Trump haters. (It always seems to end up there.)

We are living in uncertain times. Just about every commercial you see on TV now reminds us of that. (If not “uncertain,” the commercial will say it is a “challenging” time, with somber music playing in the background.) Uncertainty breeds fear. And anger is often an expression of fear. Folks are not as sure of their future as they were a couple of months ago. The truth is no one is. No one is sure of the solution, if there is one. So the uncertainty and fear is expressed in anger. Since it’s hard to get mad at a virus, you need another object to vent your anger. And so it goes.

Is Ms. Lea pleased with her situation? No. Who would be? But she has chosen to make the best of it. Maybe that’s what we all should be doing. I am believing that the virus outlook will be better later this summer so that we can make that visit to see her. Because I miss Ms. Lea.

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By Mac McPhail

Contributing columnist

Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at [email protected]