Exactly when Robert and Barbara Finch stopped believing in the science behind the COVID-19 vaccines, we’ll never know. They’re both dead now, their names added to the list of almost 1,000 Mainers who have been lost to the still-raging pandemic.

“One year ago, they were waiting to get vaccinated,” Matt Finch, their son, said in a telephone interview Friday from his parents’ home in Old Town.

“They took this thing so seriously that – I’m in their house right now just trying to get things into order, and there are boxes upon boxes of masks and boxes of sanitizer,” he said. “There was a time when they very wholeheartedly were pro-vaccine, pro-mask and just doing everything in their power to keep people safe.”

Then they were exposed to something as dangerous as the disease itself – a so-called health practice that, according to their son, led Robert and Barbara Finch away from common-sense caution and into the shadows of dangerous quackery.

Finch is not ready to name the facility. “I’m still getting my ducks in a row,” he explained.

But he wants the world to know that if his parents could fall victim to wild, unfounded claims that the vaccines are a hoax, anyone can. And if he can stop it from happening again, that’s precisely what he’s going to do.

Robert, 74, taught math for 40 years in the Bangor school system. A colleague described him to the Bangor Daily News last week as “the definition of an educator.”

Barbara, 70, worked for decades in Bangor-area hair salons before, in her later years, she became a public-school education technician in Milford.

They were intelligent, caring people, their son said. Then late last year, inexplicably, their opinions about the pandemic lurched away from the science and toward what sounded to their 46-year-old son like pure lunacy. They decided against getting vaccinated. Try as he might, Matt could not change their minds.

Barbara and Robert Finch Courtesy of Birmingham Funeral Home

“I saw this incredible change in my parents’ personalities over the past year,” he said. “And it led me down this path trying to figure out where the heck they were getting their information.”

At first, he thought it might be coming from their church. He went so far as to attend the church’s services himself for a time, but nothing he witnessed there raised any red flags.

“And then one day, my dad told me exactly where it was coming from,” he said.

His father said their change of heart was rooted in a health facility – not connected to their primary care physicians – where they were both patients.

“They were being treated for (musculoskeletal issues),” he said. “And that transitioned into – I don’t even know what to call it, other than snake-oil stuff.”

His parents, citing what they’d learned from the provider, began to tell Matt that the COVID-19 vaccine contains microchips and that President Biden was actually a body double. The latter claim, he said, was based on a video allegedly showing how much Biden’s earlobes have dropped in the past 20 years.

Ultimately, Matt said, his parents opted not to trust any medical advice. Instead, his mother traded her medical prescriptions for tinctures sold by the practice, and Robert and Barbara both began attending “group sessions,” as Matt called them, at the practice.

His parents tried to recruit friends to their new outlook, Matt said. In turn, the friends tried to reason with them. But they wouldn’t budge.

In late August, Matt said, his parents were notified by the practice that someone with the virus had come through the place. Robert and Barbara were tested for COVID-19. Both tests came back positive.

Then things fell apart. Matt came by one morning to drop off groceries and found his mother barely able to speak or move. He called an ambulance immediately.

“Her blood oxygen level was 34,” he said, noting that a normal level is around 95. “When they were getting her into the ambulance, they got it up to about 60 and she came around for about a minute. She recognized who I was. I told her I love her. She told me she loves me. Then she went on a ventilator, and I never spoke with her again.”

Robert, also sick, went into a tailspin two days later. Matt, by now checking his father’s blood oxygen every hour, called the ambulance again when his level plummeted from the mid-90s to 60.

“I had a day when I could speak to him – and then they ventilated him for a week,” Matt said.

Did they talk about what had happened? Did his father express any regret about the choices he and his wife had made?

“I cannot explain how bad this virus affected their brains,” Matt said. “My father is a very, very smart man, and it was like talking to a 5-year-old. His brain did not function correctly. He could barely get out sentences. It was not an in-depth conversation at all.”

Prior to being infected, Barbara had lung problems – she’d been a longtime smoker and suffered from asthma. Robert also had underlying health issues – about a decade ago, he had a kidney removed.

Once hospitalized, Barbara’s difficulties centered on her lungs. Meanwhile, Robert’s remaining kidney began to fail.

“This virus really attacks whatever is hurting – whatever part of your system is lacking,” Matt said.

Barbara died Sept. 10. Robert died two days later. They left Matt, their daughter, Sarah Finch, and three grandchildren.

Matt, who is fully vaccinated and still quarantining, now faces two challenges – putting his parents’ affairs in order and holding accountable those who he believes contributed mightily to their deaths.

“I can’t let it go, but I have no interest in spending the rest of my life in court,” he said. Still, he added, “I don’t want anyone else to get hurt. I don’t want anyone else to even be getting this information. Period.”

That might mean a lawsuit or maybe a complaint to the Maine Office of Professional and Occupational Regulation. Either action would make public the name of the facility Matt thinks led his parents astray.

But for now, he can only accept the steady stream of sympathy calls from people who loved his parents and, day after painful day, sort through the “anti-mask, anti-vax” literature they brought home from a place where COVID-19 is apparently no big deal.

Beyond his own shattered world, Matt wants all of Maine to know that this kind of denial needs to stop. The stakes are too high and the risk – based on all-too-real data – only gets worse by the day.

“It’s too late for my parents,” Matt said. “What I care about now is that no other person listens to this crap.”

Comments are not available on this story.