Pandemic, Year One: Mary Petrak Of Hollidaysburg: Grief During Lockdown

Mar 25, 2021

Dave & Mary Petrak of Hollidaysburg enjoyed many outdoor activities together.
Credit Mary Petrak (selfie) / courtesy of Mary Petrak

We asked WPSU listeners to share their experience of this past year for our series, Pandemic, Year One.  For today’s story, WPSU’s Kristine Allen spoke with a retired teacher from Hollidaysburg.  She lost her husband just before the pandemic began.

“He was just a guy with a big smile that lit up the room,” Mary Petrak said. “He was really good at listening to people’s stories.  Also a good storyteller.”

Petrak’s husband, Dave, died five months before the pandemic started.  They had been married for 43 years.

“He and I just enjoyed a lot of things together,” she said. “We enjoyed outside kind of things.  We’re always pretty active. We walked, we hiked, biked, kayaked.” 

After months without her husband, Petrak was just getting to the point where she could go out and do some of those things again.  And then the pandemic hit.

“And it’s such a challenge after a loss, to get back to normal things. .  I had just started bravely going out and doing a few visits with like a niece and her family.  It was hard to do that without him, but it was a push. And then the pandemic shut everything down.”

But Petrak says that for her, there were two sides to the pandemic solitude.

“It was very lonely, and very isolating to be here by myself.  But then the other side of that is I don’t have to be chipper around people.  And there was almost like a kind of relief in that. It’s kind of nice to have a mask on because no one can see that you’re sad.”

The hardest part of her grief journey, Petrak said, is struggling with the reality that her husband is gone.

“Letting it sink in. He’s not coming back. And it takes a really long time for that. You just still hear a door and think it’s Dave. Or see something in the newspaper and turn like you’re going to tell him about it. And so, the question is: now what?”

Now, Petrak has had the vaccine, and she’s venturing out more. But she also says she missed months of socializing during the pandemic, when people she met might have offered condolences.

“You know, I’m braver.  And I’m going back to church and things like that. And I see people, and the time when they might have asked me about Dave or something is really passed.  Because it’s almost – I’m coming up on a year and a half now since he died.”

Petrak did recently get a chance to talk about her husband in a virtual bereavement support group.

“So that was a tremendous help, because we just got to talk about things like do you stay on the same side of the bed? Do you need to make your bed and clean your sheets as often because you’re only on half of them? And we can actually laugh about it in a way that only we can understand.”

Petrak knows COVID means a lot more people have lost someone lately. To those who wish to support friends who are grieving, she says just listen.

“I just feel like the people who are grieving just need to have permission,” Petrak said. “Let them talk.”

You'll find all of our pandemic stories with our COVID-19 coverage at wpsu.org/radio