INDIANAPOLIS — The early, quiet days of the pandemic still haunt Melody Cooper.
Cooper lives in assisted living on the city's east side, and as a Hoosier with a disability, she continues to work as an advocate for Arc of Indiana. But her world changed when COVID-19 hit the Hoosier State.
"We were on total lockdown. I mean we couldn't go nowhere we couldn't do nothing," Cooper said about living in assisted living during the beginning of the pandemic. "That was the beginning of the worst year of my life."
Her mom recently died, and her husband Joe lived at a neighboring facility. They were separated due to the quarantine rules.
Then one day, she got the news over the phone: "Your husband and his roommates have tested positive for COVID."
Eventually, Joe had to move to Community East for further treatment and he was responding well. This was during the time in the pandemic when hospital visitation was extremely limited and only sometimes allowed in end-of-life situations but there was no guarantee.
Cooper kept calling and calling, trying to find a way to see her sick husband.
Finally, a nurse tried to get an iPad to work so she could talk to him, as he wasn't doing well.
"And I said, yeah, I want to say goodbye to him, but I don't want to say goodbye to him on an iPad," Cooper said.
However, device wouldn't connect, so the nurse got permission for her to come in person to say goodbye.
"I looked like I was actually going into surgery myself. I mean they suited me up and I went into the room and my husband was just laying there and it was like somebody I had never seen," Cooper said. "I wanted to pull off my shoes and just crawl up in the bed beside him and hold him, but I was scared to death."
She worried she would get sick. She worried Joe would die. She says she was frozen in fear of what to do next.
"I wanted to hold him. I just wanted to lay on his shoulder," says Cooper. "He never did open up his eyes, but every once in a while, he would give me that, that, that arm."
She left the hospital with one last memory of her husband. Joe died a short time later. Cooper was left to grieve in isolation and said friends and family reached out as best as they could, but she still felt alone.
But to this day, she remembers a promise she made to Joe, that she would keep going. She would keep doing her job, working as an advocate because she makes a difference.
"I made Joe a promise that I would keep on going," Cooper said. "I keep on going. I love what I do."
To this day, Cooper continues her work at the Arc of Indiana as an advocate and she continues to stay strong, for herself and for Joe.
She urges anyone who feels alone to reach out because she wants you to know that you are not alone and there is help available.