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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

On My Mind: Connie's Memories

Carol Montuoro

Connie Montuoro died from the coronavirus on May the 4th. She probably didn’t know why she was sick, or how she ended up at the hospital, or why her family didn’t come to see her anymore. She lived so much of her life in the dark.

About 20 years ago, she had a brain aneurysm. After that her brain had a hard time making new memories. But she still had a lot of old ones to draw on.

“Not too long ago, we were looking at old photos. And my mother saw airplane mechanics. And she would say, ‘Oh, he's so cute!’”

That’s Carol Montuoro Jarrell, one of Connie’s five children. The guy in the mechanic’s uniform was Vince Montuoro, Connie’s husband. Connie and Vince were married 71 years.

They grew up in Philadelphia, where they got married when Connie was a year out of high school. From there, they moved to Oklahoma for Vince’s work, and then to Vero Beach, Florida, where they settled in for most of their lives.

Connie and Vince played tennis together and hosted little get-togethers that would end up with 20 or 25 people in the house. She made spectacular cheesecake.

They were planning to live out their lives in Vero Beach until Connie had the aneurysm. After a while Vince couldn’t take care of her anymore. So in 2004, they moved to Charlotte to be close to Carol and her sister, Mary K.

Vince lived with Carol and her family. Connie moved into a retirement home that used to be called Brookdale Cotswold. It’s now called The Social. Carol says the people there treated her mother well. Somebody from the family would drive Vince over every day to see Connie. Sometimes they’d bring her to the house, and the two of them would sit side by side, kissing and holding hands.

But Connie developed dementia and started having strokes. Every year, a little more of her faded away. Vince died last October at age 95. Carol is pretty sure her mom never knew.

In mid-March, when the virus started to hit hard, The Social closed its doors to visitors. Carol understands the reasons. But she also understands that, at the moment her mom needed her most, she couldn’t be there.

“I just felt like on the inside of me I had like this tornado just whirling around, all this energy, and also anger that I couldn't express or get out," she said. "Because I was cut off from seeing her and spending time with her and caring for and wondering what was going on and what she … I knew she gets confused. And did she understand? And I knew that was probably no. And she was probably wondering what happened to me.”

A month later, on the Monday after Easter, Connie got sick. She was in the hospital for a few days, then back at The Social, then back in the hospital. At some point she tested positive for the virus. As of May 12, counting residents and staff, The Social has 25 confirmed cases of the virus. Six residents have died.

At the end, Connie was moved into comfort care at the hospital, and Carol was able to visit one last time.

“And if somebody has to deal with this again, I hope they change the rules that allow at least one designated person to be able to visit the loved one and just even if it's a weekend like once a week, just so they can see the person and know if everything's OK or going OK with a loved one," she said, "especially one with a memory care issue can see their family member and know that they haven't been deserted.”

Back in October, Vince had a big funeral down in Vero Beach. Dozens of people came. Connie’s funeral is limited to 10 guests. Afterward, she will be buried next to her husband.

One of the things the virus is making us think about is how much value we should put on our time on this earth – or, to say it more cynically, how much we should care about the time somebody else gets. Connie Montuoro was near the end of her life either way. She didn’t even know what the virus was. Can we say how much it would matter if she had lived to 91 instead of 90? Is her death a tragedy because she couldn’t remember the life she was living?

The only way I know to answer that is with another question: What if they were your days? Would you want a single one taken away?

Connie’s room at The Social is still locked up – the family can’t get in there. They planned to donate most of her mom’s stuff anyway. But Carol did get someone to save her some photographs. There’s one of Connie and Vince, and one of the kids, and some of better times down in Florida.

The photos needed to be disinfected. So Carol wiped them down and left them outside for a while. And Connie Montuoro’s memories got to spend some time in the sun.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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