Allison Daily has devoted her life to helping people navigate grief and loss. When Art, her husband of 25 years, died unexpectedly in December at age 79, she herself was challenged to try to use the tools and heed the advice she’d been giving all these years as a grief counselor and director of the Aspen-based nonprofit Pathfinders.
The mourning process was complicated by the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has forced people to grieve without traditional mass gatherings for funerals or memorial services and without the smaller comforts of hugs.
Through her pandemic, she’d been helping others make choices around grief in the pandemic. Even with all her clinical expertise and her vast empathetic gifts, Daily struggled when Art died.
“I still have to go through all the missing and the hurt and the pain and those feelings,” she said recently in her Aspen home off Cemetery Lane, seated on a blanket emblazoned with a picture of Art and joined by her two bulldogs. “I try to let myself really feel everything and not fight it.”
She is grateful that the final nine months of Art’s life were during the pandemic, when he and Allison spent most of their time together at home. She views that time now as a gift.
“I think it's important to realize what things about the pandemic have served you,” she said. “For example, it sounds weird, but as hard as this confinement has been, my God, I had all this time with my husband that I would not have gotten otherwise.”
During the stay-home period of the early pandemic, their son Rider was home as well, studying for his LSAT. Yes, they got stir-crazy, Daily recalled, and yes, they felt like they were crawling all over one another and, yes, she sees it now as a blessing.
“Even if we were driving each other crazy, when you’re in the missing and you’re on this side – where that person isn’t here anymore – you have a completely different perspective on this,” she said. “You look back and go, ‘Gosh, there were so many things that, even though I was so mad at the time, I was so frustrated and angry, you know, that I'm so thankful I had that time.’ … As horrible as the pandemic has been, that's something I can take from it that I can be thankful for.”
With Art mostly retired and Allison working little, other than Zoom calls, during the spring 2020 lockdown, the pair got into a routine she came to cherish. She’d get coffee from an outdoor stand in town in the morning, they’d make cinnamon rolls, then hike or a bike depending on the weather. After a go-go life of work – Art as an attorney and city councilman – they also found joy in some lazy days of TV-watching during the lockdown.
Their partnership had been founded on grief and healing, beginning in the wake of tragedy. Art had lost his wife, Kathy, and sons Tanner, 10, and Shea, 6, when a falling boulder struck their car in Glenwood Canyon in 1995. Allison was fluent in the language of extraordinary grief, having lost a brother young to suicide, and reached out to Art to support him in the aftermath of the canyon tragedy.
Since the early days of their relationship and the aftermath of the accident, Allison and Art had discussed mortality openly. So last year, with Art’s health declining and the threat of the pandemic, they talked about it even more. Alison marveled at how Art lived in acceptance of it and without fear, which brought her solace when he did die in his sleep.
Betty Rivera’s daughter, Antonella, took her first steps in the family’s Hunter Creek apartment in early March 2021, waddling briefly across the floor. The toddler turned 1 in January as the one-year mark of the pandemic loomed. She has spent nearly all of her life in the pandemic. Like those first steps, all of the grand milestones of her first year have been celebrated by the family at home and privately and without close contact with others or gatherings. The family celebrated her first birthday while in quarantine after a COVID-19 exposure.
“I just baked a cake and we’re just watching her starting to go from crawling to standing,” Betty said in early March. “So, it was just fun.”
Speaking to The Aspen Times a year ago, when Antonella was an infant and the town was under a stay-home order, she said: “I’m an optimist, so I’m seeing the glass half-full and not half-empty in this case.”
Betty has stuck to that outlook as much as she could through the occasional ups and considerable downs of pandemic childrearing.
She and her husband, Ross, have dealt with the anxiety and isolation of parenting in the pandemic, of being working parents, of getting sick themselves, but in talking about the experience she returns repeatedly to her gratitude for having had so much time at home with her daughter.
“I never would have had those nine months with my daughter, which has been amazing,” Betty Rivera said.
For Betty, the pandemic solved her anxiety around putting Antonella in day care at 3 months old and going back to work.
“This created such a special bond,” she said. “And I feel like, especially moms, we struggle so much with going back to work and staying an individual and a mom and a wife and everything. And this just helped me be happy to be with her and then also be happy to go out, go back to work.”
She went back to work in November, beginning a new job at Jus Aspen, and Antonella started day care at the Early Learning Center.
“We always knew we wanted her to go to day care,” she said. “We want her to have those social skills.”
“We opted to have him quarantine away from us, because it just shortens the quarantine time so much,” Maile said.
That choice allowed the family to avoid the cascade of infections that has kept some other families in strict quarantine for as long as four or six weeks during the pandemic. But it wasn’t an easy choice for Dad to leave before the holiday.
Back in April 2020, at home with the kids during the stay-home period in Aspen, Maile told The Aspen Times: “The days are exhausting, you know, but it’s so fun. (Tanner is) at a really funny age. Like she can be super volatile and crazy, but for the most part it’s really fun. I’m sure we’ll look back and think that was awesome more than we’ll think that was so hard.”
Still looking on the bright side and hunting for silver linings, Maile sees extraordinary value in all of the family time. But she’s also accepted that it’s all right to admit that she didn’t like living through a historic and deadly pandemic.
“My mom is always like, ‘You’re going to look back on this and wish that you had that again,’” she said. “I don't know. I don’t think I will look back on this with many fond memories.”