Massachusetts recently passed a grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic: the deaths of more than 10,000 residents.
Occasionally we’ve brought you their stories, and today, we meet Mildred Stopa. The 96-year-old read the newspaper every day. And her family reassured her that while other nursing homes had COVID-19, hers didn't.
“And then all of a sudden it did,” said Stopa’s oldest daughter, Christina Moriarty. “And she tested positive and they put her on the COVID ward. And that was that. We could only visit her on Zoom.”
In the 1950s, Moriarty, her sister, and parents lived in Chicopee, Massachusetts. The house had a big, well-kept yard.
“They had the house of their dreams. Everything was perfect,” Moriarty said.
She explains her maternal grandparents emigrated from Poland, and didn't speak any English, so that must have made it difficult for Stopa to assimilate.
“Maybe she was teased, although to my memory she didn't have a Polish accent, so maybe she tried very hard not to, so that she could fit in,” she said.
Later in life, married with children, Stopa never allowed Moriarty to learn Polish.
“For me it was hard,” she said. “But, I think she was trying to give me a leg up, as it were.”
Moriarty said when she was young, there were deep cultural tensions in Chicopee between the French Canadians and the Polish.
Decades later, and after her divorce, Stopa enrolled in night classes, and studied to become a secretary. After retiring as a financial assistance social worker for the state of Massachusetts, Stopa stayed busy, enjoying ballroom dancing, painting, Polish music and culture.
“When she was living on her own and going out in the world, traveling, going to events, festivals and lectures, she always had the most beautiful clothing,” Moriarty said.
And her favorite color: definitely blue.
“Oh my God, she loved the color blue. Everything was blue,” Moriarty said laughing. “It used to amaze me, you know, if she had a choice of buying something, it could be even something for the kitchen, or a plastic spoon — if she had a choice of every color in the rainbow, it would be blue!”
Moriarty's sister, Sheila, who lives across the country, made sure every holiday was marked with bouquets of flowers, featuring gladiolas — her mom’s favorite flower.
After living on her own for many, many years, in the stately custom built blue home where she raised her family in Aldenville, Stopa sold the house, and Moriarty was shocked the new owner painted it.
“I thought, 'No! It’s a blue house,” she said, laughing. “Of course it was a blue house.”
Mildred Stopa was 12 days away from her 97th birthday when she died of complications from the coronavirus, at Holyoke Healthcare Center, on August 8.