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

“I’ve experienced a lot in the last couple of months and it’s not all bad.”

Jessica Sobey is a member of Maine Medical Center’s infectious disease team and also works as a labor and delivery nurse. Photo courtesy of Jessica Sobey

That’s how Jessica Sobey, 43, of South Portland summed up the past two months of life in the time of coronavirus.

In her 10th year as a nurse at Maine Medical Center, Sobey has had a front-row seat to the pandemic, both as a member of Maine Med’s infectious disease team and as a labor and delivery nurse.

As a mother, she’s had to get her 20-year-old daughter Alivia home from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and cope with her son Isaac losing out on touchstone moments like his senior lacrosse season at South Portland High, having a big 18th birthday celebration, the prom and graduation.

A new baby nephew was born March 31 whom she’s yet to hold, “and I’ve been at the birth of all my other nieces and nephews and I have 13 of them.”

Her beloved uncle Ed Robinson died in her home April 20. They were able to hold a small, private burial but Robinson’s five siblings from across the country, including Sobey’s mother, could not attend.

Family members have lost jobs while she and her husband, Josh Sobey, a commercial diver, have continued to work outside the home, creating nagging worries that they could become infected.

But it was the tender, touching moments along the way that prompted Sobey to share her story with the Press Herald.

“I think my point is that despite all the unknowns and changes in policies and concern about what are we going to do with graduation, and the sports season, the hospital, the economy – all of the unknowns – life keeps happening,” Sobey said. “People are being born and people are dying and it can be beautiful and we are blessed. Even though there is a lot of fear and sadness, it’s the ability to be present. How do you make the loss of a prom special? How do you make the loss of being able to hold the hand of someone you love in their final days beautiful nonetheless?”

Isaac Sobey and Savannah Dunbar of South Portland pose in their prom attire. Sobey’s mother, Jessica, organized a personal prom dinner for the two high school seniors. Photo courtesy of Jessica Sobey

For her son and his girlfriend, Savannah Dunbar, Sobey combined forces with her sister Jennifer Queally to create a special, intimate “quasi prom,” as she put it. The young couple, with permission from both sets of parents, dressed for the occasion, dined in Queally’s decorated garden patio and were able to be together to see the sun rise, a local prom tradition.

“One of the reasons it was important to me was his girlfriend had bought her dress and had shown it to me and I was so excited for her to have that,” Sobey said. “They both have been really good with this quarantine and been really strict until his 18th birthday on May 11. He’s not going to get another prom and they’ve been dating for two years and they’ve both grown up a lot and been really sweet about the whole thing. I just wanted them to have a beautiful night and let them celebrate. They’ve missed out on so much and I felt like this was something we could make happen, safely, and not expose anyone except the two of them.”

The impacts of coronavirus were a significant factor in Sobey’s decisions on how best to care for her uncle, who also lived in South Portland. A former Catholic priest who had become part of the Quaker community, Ed Robinson had become a well-known local landscaper. But in the midst of the pandemic, his health and mental acuity deteriorated quickly. He was diagnosed with a massive case of lymphoma in mid-April. He was given two weeks to live.

With restrictions on visitors, Sobey knew if Robinson was admitted to either a hospital or a hospice house, he would likely die alone. She decided she could care for him.

“I realized I’m a nurse, I can do this and he’s not going anywhere,” she said.

Jessica Sobey of South Portland weeps shortly after her uncle Ed Robinson died on April 20. Sobey cared for Robinson in his final days in her home. Photo courtesy of Jessica Sobey

With the help of her brother, she was able to get Robinson moved in on a Friday. He died the next Monday, shortly after completing a Zoom call with his siblings and other family members. In his final days he was able to complete many things on his very specific bucket list. He took a sip of wine, drank a Heineken, received last rites from a Catholic priest. Via Zoom, he met with his Quaker community one last time. He listened to his favorite opera singers, and even took a last tour of his final garden project in Cape Elizabeth.

Sobey said she had fallen asleep, curled next to Robinson on his bed, with “Ava Maria,” playing, when her aunt, still on the Zoom call, realized Robinson had passed away.

“Everybody got to come back on the call. It was beautiful and amazing,” Sobey said.

Robinson’s last wish was to have a “green” funeral, meaning he would be buried without a casket, and to be interned at the Portland Friends Meeting Cemetery. He was buried April 22. It was Earth Day.

“He was wrapped and he was put on a pine tray, and then we dropped him into the ground and we dug the earth that we all put over him. There were 10 of us, all wearing masks, and we buried him,” Sobey said.

Soon after Sobey returned to work. With the hospital’s COVID-19 related precautions now fully in place, she is spending less time instructing fellow staff on the proper cleaning and care of personal protective equipment and has returned to her regular duties in labor and delivery.

“We’ve all been working overtime. My unit has been just as busy,” she said.

Even a pandemic can’t stop births.

That’s the point Sobey said she’s hoping to make. Life isn’t perfect. But it can and does go on.

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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