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Daughter Of Williamstown Commons COVID-19 Victim Remembers Mother

The Robare Family
Martha Louise Robare

A resident of the Williamstown Commons nursing and rehabilitation facility in Williamstown, Massachusetts has died after testing positive for COVID-19. WAMC spoke with her daughter.

86-year-old Martha Louise Robare lived at the facility for 14 months before she died there on Saturday.

“She was a very caring and loving person, very gregarious and outgoing. Very much an extroverted personality," said Andrea Robare, her daughter. “They started calling me last Wednesday and keeping me abreast and letting me know what was going on. She had other underlying problems – she had asthma and she had congestive heart failure.”

As of Sunday, the facility of about 130 residents had 17 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 15 people being treated in-house, one sent to Berkshire Medical Center, and one death.

A mother of four, Robare worked at the Sprague Electric Company in North Adams for 20 years, and was last employed as a receptionist at the city’s YMCA before retiring in 1999.

“Before she went to Williamstown Commons, [she] was very outgoing, was involved in the Y a lot," said her daughter. "They had – I think it was called Twinges in the Hinges swim class that she went to a couple times a week, and then it was a social group so they’d go out to lunch and she was involved in chair yoga and different things. She never sat at home, she wasn’t someone to sit around.”

Robare brought that same passion for life to Williamstown Commons, playing bingo and socializing with her fellow residents.

“Very outgoing person, is how I would best describe my mom, right up to the end, right up until last week when she got ill," said Andrea Robare. "That’s probably why she got sick, because she was around everyone there.”

Robare was a staunch Catholic. Her family was able to be at her side with a priest to offer her comfort in her final hours – though they were separated by a pane of glass.

“We were able to go Saturday morning outside her window with our parish priest and he was able to administer the sacrament of the sick – obviously, not the anointing, because he couldn’t physically be there, he couldn’t touch her," said Andrea Robare. "But they were able to crack open her window. Myself, my brother, my sister-in-law, and my sister on the phone because she lives out of state. He was able say the prayers, give her that sacrament, and they did tell her that her family was outside and she did wave to us.”

Despite the distance, the ceremony gave the Robares some peace.

“As someone who was a lifelong Catholic and very strong in her faith it would have been horrible to me and our family if she wasn’t allowed to have that,” her daughter told WAMC.

Andrea says her family is appreciative of those moments despite the pain of separation.

“Under other circumstances we would be by her bedside," she said. "We would able to able to be there, hold her hand, talk to her. So that was hard, even though we were able to be at her window, which I have to remember, not everybody is able to do that. And my mom was in a nursing home where we could access her, at least from the outside. There are people in the hospital that – that’s not a possibility.”

The pandemic has changed everything, including how we grieve.

“Not being able to have a wake, not being able to see her one more time, those are things under normal circumstance you can do – under these circumstances obviously we can’t," said Andrea Robare. "So that’s – yeah, that’s a bit difficult.”

Robare spoke highly of Williamstown Commons and it staff.

“My mother got very good care while she was there, I will say that," she told WAMC. "And I speak for my family when I say that we have no doubts that she was well cared for there.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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