Editor’s note: The Virus Diaries is a series in which Mainers talk about how they are affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Brenda Grant-Hays, shown with her husband, Michael. He is helping to run the family business in Maine right now; she is in a village in France, which is under a government lockdown in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Photo courtesy of Brenda Grant-Hays

“We had a plan, and it was going well,” Brenda Grant-Hays said. “Business doing very well, retirement within sight and retirement home in the south of France secured.”

Long term, her plan still seems in place. But for now, Grant-Hays, 60, is isolated in France during the pandemic, while her husband is in their home in Falmouth.

“Mike (was scheduled to come) in May for the final two weeks, to help close up the house, and we would return together.

“That was the plan … and we all know what happened next.”

A flight in June was booked – and canceled. Then a flight for early July – and canceled again.

“Week by week we’ve waited,” Brenda said.

The couple owns Grant Hays Associates Architecture and Interior Design in Falmouth. With the thought of one day retiring to France, the couple looked for houses and, three years ago, discovered one they could not pass up.

“We found this property much sooner than anticipated … in a village about 35 kilometers east, southeast of Bordeaux,” Brenda said. “It left us with sorting out how to manage, having it before we were quite ready for that retirement.

“Given that I can do much of my work remotely, we decided I would come here for winters, while continuing to work on the house, while my husband continued in Maine as the face of our business.”

This year, Grant-Hays was spending her third winter in France when the virus outbreak hit, with the ensuing lockdowns.

“This began March 14 with the closure of all restaurants, cafés and cinemas, but has now extended to everything considered nonessential. … Everyone must remain in their homes due to government restrictions.

“The social isolation is the worst part. I had finally established a social circle of friends and activities here, but we are no longer allowed to gather – exercise or dance classes no longer exist. … I had the presence of mind to purchase a few of the new Facebook portals before my winter departure, so I can conduct virtual meetings for business, and spend a bit of time with friends and family. With the exception of my two cats, I am alone.

“My French language skills are passable but not strong enough yet for a full conversation and, while one would think this is immersion, when you are not able to socialize there is no immersion.

“In fact, going anywhere at all is not without its challenges.  The reason for leaving your home must be one of the essential reasons (and written) on the paper you must fill out and have with you, as well as your identification, visa, etc. Gatherings are strictly prohibited, and many businesses and services are on hold.

“There is a sadness here – a rhythm of life that’s been lost – everywhere, I suppose, but here still different.

“It’s disheartening to see these once lively streets, of people walking arm in arm, now empty, spare an occasional person walking their dog or picking up a quick baguette.

“Many believe we will have a ‘new normal’ when this is over – but sadly, this is our new normal and, right now, I am struggling to sort how myself and my family is going to navigate this new normal.

“While I am sharing my story, I hesitate to complain. I have all my physical needs met, I am not in danger, my living environment is without a doubt wonderful, I’m not being denied essential health care if I need it.

“But we, like pretty much everyone in the world, have no idea how or when this is going to end.

“Once I’m able to leave and return to the States, there will be greater sadness because I don’t know when I’ll be able to return – and will that require the vaccine that’s being touted as the cure-all to this madness?  These are frightening times, with lines queued on the sidewalks and in the stores, plexiglass shields at all points of transaction, people wearing masks and the overwhelming fear in people’s eyes.”

Do you have a story to share about how you are affected by the coronavirus outbreak? Email us at [email protected]

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