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Separated by the pandemic part 1: Married for 53 years

Mynahan poses with a smartphone photograph of his wife, Bernadette Anne. (Photo by Nathan Tsukroff, PortraitEFX)

The following story is the first of many interviews being done by Nathan Tsukroff of PortraitEFX to capture the effects of this pandemic on the people of Maine. 

Imagine being married for 53 years, sharing the joys and sorrows of raising a family and losing loved ones.

Now imagine not being allowed to touch the person you’ve loved all those years.

For Tim Mynahan and his wife, Bernadette Anne, of Dyer Road in Lewiston, this is the sad reality under the social-distancing needs brought on by the Covid-19 crisis.

Bernadette – known to her friends as “Bernie” and to her four granddaughters as “BB” – entered The Lamp Memory Care Center (DLTC Healthcare) in September of last year. Mynahan has visited his wife almost daily since then but has only been allowed to talk to her through a glass door since the middle of March, when the facility put rules in place to protect residents during the global pandemic. He also is able to talk with her via Facetime on his cellphone.

Just a few minutes drive from their longtime home, The Lamp is a 28-bed facility in Lisbon that provides care for seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia. No touching or close contact is allowed by visitors for now, to keep Bernadette and the other patients safe.

Bernadette transitioned to hospice care at The Lamp in January after spending much of December in the hospital.

Despite his sadness at the lack of closeness, Mynahan spoke warmly about the kindness of the caregivers at The Lamp. “The caregivers, right up from the Administrator all the way down to the handyman, they love those patients! I’ve never seen so much love that they give those patients. They are special, special people.”

“And I thought about that, and I was talking to one of the nurses there . . . and she said, ‘Well, you know . . . you go into the hospital and you could be there for two or three days. Probably the nurse you had the first day is probably a different nurse the next day, and then you’re gone. At the nursing home,’ she said, ‘they’re there year-round. They grow on you. They love you, and you love them back.’”

“And then I thought of that, and I said, you know, that makes a lot of sense,” Mynahan said. “That these people become attached to these patients. They joke with the patients . . . they make them laugh. They have music there. They have all kinds of things – it’s amazing!”

“And I say to myself, boy, either I’m a lucky guy or a pretty smart guy, that I got her at The Lamp nursing home,” he said.

Bernadette grow up in Pembroke, New Hampshire. She graduated from Pembroke Academy where she was inducted into the National Honor Society and was involved in numerous activities. She went on to receive her nursing degree from the School of Nursing at Central Maine Medical Center (CMMC). 

They met over the summer while Mynahan was in the hospital for knee surgery from an injury at college. Bernadette was one of his nurses, and, “She took really good care of me, so I never lost sight of that,” he said. “And then, I think, around six months later, we were married!

She was to have received a Lifetime Achievement award in April as part of the Remember ME program from the Maine Health Care Association. According to the MCHS website, the Remember ME project features the black and white photographs, accompanied by brief biographies, of pioneering, innovative and interesting residents living in Maine’s long-term care facilities. The award ceremony was postponed because of the pandemic.

Bernadette worked as a nurse and night supervisor at CMMC, later working for the State of Maine Department of Human Services as a consultant for nursing homes throughout the state. She retired in 2012, returning to CMMC as a volunteer. She had already started to show signs of dementia, Mynahan said, but was able to hide them for a while. He said she deteriorated over the years, and he spent the last three years as her full-time caregiver at home.

Mynahan was a teacher in Lewiston for over 35 years, and on the side was a football coach for more than 20 years, as well as being Director of the Lewiston recreation department. 

With her advancing dementia, Bernadette “sometimes would sneak out, and we would lose her,” Mynahan said. “She would get outside and wouldn’t know how to get back.” He eventually got help from the Auburn Police Department with a program to attach a GPS bracelet to her ankle. If she left the house and couldn’t find her way home, Mynahan would get help from neighbors in searching for her. If they couldn’t find her, he would call the police department to track her bracelet. 

“I tell everybody my house is worth a million dollars,” Mynahan said. “And they look at me kind of funny, and I say – it’s not the house. It’s not the property. It’s the neighborhood.” He said the whole neighborhood would help with searches. “It’s just amazing . . . the neighbors that I have here, it’s just worth millions.”

Neighbors visit him daily, he said, whether to help with chores and repairs around the house, or just to talk. With the Covid-19 restrictions now, “We sit in the garage. I have the chairs separated . . . about 10 or 12 feet away.”

The help from his neighbors, and his brother and sister-in-law Dick and Reine Mynahan across the street, made it possible to stay in his house while caring for his wife full time. “And I’m a lucky guy,” he said. “I’m alone in the house. But I’m not alone, because of my neighbors, my neighborhood, and my family that live close by. People that go through this . . . (this) really is something that people need, a lot of people around them, checking on them. Because it’s traumatic.”

“I’ve lost two sons, and now I’ve lost my wife, more or less. I can’t see her, I can’t hug her, I can’t hold her hand,” he said.

One son, Timothy J. Mynahan was valedictorian of his graduating class at Lewiston High School in 1988. He went on to College of the Holy Cross, where he excelled as a student and was selected as member of the Alpha Sigman Nu National Jesuit Honor Society. He died in August, 1991, from injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident. Tim and Bernadette created the Timothy J. Mynahan Foundation in his memory as a non-profit organization to provide annual scholarships to students in the Lewiston-Auburn and Lisbon areas. 

Timothy’s younger brother Joseph R. Mynahan was a standout athlete, playing soccer and ice hockey before graduating from Lewiston High School in 1989. He eventually started his own business, East Coast Fitness, and repaired physical fitness machinery throughout Maine. He died in June, 2019.

Their remaining son, Patrick, and his wife, Laura, live with daughters, Olivia and Katherine, in Alfred. Patrick and Laura visit almost every weekend, Mynahan said, fixing things around the house. They are currently repainting the interior.

The four granddaughters, Kate, Jordan, Brooklyn, and Olivia, come and visit Mynahan at the house and go to see “BB” at The Lamp. They visited with Tim and Bernadette at The Lamp for Thanksgiving dinner, because that is “something that was important” to Bernadette, Mynahan said. In past summers, the grandchildren spent time with Tim and Bernadette at their camp on Brassua Lake, which is about five miles west of Moosehead Lake in Maine.

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