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Officials discuss COVID’s impact on their lives

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published June 19, 2020


MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — While they’re more visible in the public eye, the men and women elected to the City Council are still people at the end of the day, and like everyone else, they too have been tested by the ongoing pandemic.

The experiences recounted by members of the councils in Madison Heights and Hazel Park include struggles such as maintaining a business during the recent shutdown and losing cherished family and friends to COVID-19. And even when the loss wasn’t as severe, each of them still found their lives upended by the situation.

“Personally, I needed to take a few weeks off in order to focus on transitioning my children to remote schooling,” said Emily Rohrbach, a member of the Madison Heights City Council. “For the past month, however, I have been able to begin working from home. Trying to juggle work from home with school and family health challenges has been difficult for us, as it has been for most people in our community.”

Rohrbach’s father-in-law, Fred Rohrbach, died during the crisis — not from the virus, but after a long fight with cancer. Still, the shutdown and social distancing requirements complicated the grieving process.

“That was the hardest part — not being able to be together in person to mourn his loss,” Rohrbach said.

Due to the crisis, Roslyn Grafstein, the mayor pro tem of Madison Heights, was unable to hold a celebration for her mom’s 80th birthday in May, but her family found other ways to stay in touch.

“Instead of getting together in person, we did a Zoom (teleconferencing) call, and my brother decorated her porch and yard with balloons but didn’t go in or even get a hug. That hurt,” she said. “Having said that, in an odd way, I feel it has brought me closer to the family I don’t live with. We make a point to connect virtually more than we did before this pandemic.”

Hazel Park City Councilman Andy LeCureaux was one of the many who found themselves out of work during the shutdown.

“The residential construction industry was deemed nonessential,” he said. “Making decisions out of fear is rarely if ever the wise thing to do. It’s the easiest thing to do but rarely the right thing. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have anybody close to me pass away from the virus.

“Not eating out was inconvenient, and I hope the restaurant industry doesn’t suffer too many losses,” he added.

Kymm Clark, a member of the Madison Heights City Council who co-owns Clark’s Fabrication and Design in Madison Heights, also saw her business disrupted.

“Our business had to close due to the shutdown for just about two months,” Clark said. “I am not sure we could have made it much longer than that, but we are fortunate to be back. Playing catchup has been stressful, but so far, our clients have been understanding and empathetic.”

Madison Heights City Councilman Mark Bliss said the pandemic has hit close to home for him, both economically and with the virus itself.

“Unfortunately, a couple close friends of our family lost parents from COVID-19,” Bliss said. “My heart still breaks for them, as well as every other resident who lost a loved one to this disease.

“As far as my personal lifestyle, my wife and I had to get creative with date nights, doing virtual games with friends and picking up takeout from amazing Madison Heights restaurants like the new Irish Tavern,” he said. “Remote schooling with three kids and limited devices also proved challenging, but we made it work.”

Hazel Park City Councilwoman Amy Aubry said she lost a former coworker and friend to suspected COVID-19 with the death of state Rep. Isaac Robinson.

“Isaac was a true public servant with so much passion for the people he served, and his absence is felt deeply by the many, many lives he’s touched,” Aubry said.

She said that several other friends and acquaintances were also diagnosed with COVID-19, and some were hospitalized, but “fortunately, they have all recovered.”

As for Aubry herself, “I haven’t had to make any drastic changes due to COVID-19 because I’d already been exercising a higher level of caution than most due to my being immunocompromised. However, the addition of social distancing and increased mask wearing was definitely an adjustment.”

Like most people, she has found herself changing the way she spends time with family, as well as canceling vacations, eating out less and cooking more.

“I think it’s really important to address the stress that COVID-19 has had on myself, my family, my friends, coworkers and the community as a whole,” Aubry said. “We are in unprecedented times, and stress has a lot of negative impacts on our bodies and state of mind. It’s important for everyone to find some time for self-care. Step back from the barrage of news and social media. Turn off the TV and put the phone down. Do some coloring, or a puzzle. Lay in the sun … take a walk.

“This isn’t something that blew out of the news cycle in a couple days — it’s ongoing. Our way of life has changed,” she said. “But you have to find time to take care of yourself.”