EVANS MILLS — A husband and wife who met in the north country recently died of COVID-19 on the same day.
Joan E. Bevens, 61, who grew up in Evans Mills and was known by family as a selfless caretaker both personally and professionally, and her husband, Robert Alford, a veteran who was once stationed at Fort Drum, died on Aug. 18 at their home in Texas.
The couple made the choice not to be vaccinated, and now Mrs. Bevens’ family and friends are wondering if their sister, daughter and best friend would be alive had she been vaccinated. They’re are also grappling with the couple being found dead in their house, not knowing much of what happened in the days prior.
Lori Evans, of Brownville, was one of Mrs. Bevens’ closest and longest friends. The two spoke all the time, but when Mrs. Bevens got sick, Mrs. Evans wanted to let her rest. She was able to track Mrs. Bevens over Facebook, which made her comfortable.
By Aug. 6, when Mr. Alford tested positive for the virus, Mrs. Evans recalled Mrs. Bevens saying she was starting to feel a little bit better.
A few days later, Mrs. Bevens’ social media presence halted. This went on for another day, so Mrs. Evans began calling Mrs. Bevens. She called several times, texted and messaged her on Facebook. There was no response, so she called the local sheriff’s office in Texas and asked for a welfare check. Investigators eventually called her and said they found the couple deceased inside the home.
“I said, ‘no you have the wrong address, you went to the wrong house, they are not gone,’” Mrs. Evans said. “And he said, ‘ma’am, I’m really sorry but they are gone.’ And I said ‘OK’ and I hung up.”
Mrs. Bevens was not tested for COVID-19 until after she died. Now Mrs. Evans is preparing to attend her friend’s funeral service and celebration of life. She’s vaccinated and would encourage others to get the shot, but she isn’t going to judge those who don’t.
“It’s not their right to judge,” Mrs. Evans said.
Joanne Kaune, Mrs. Beven’s sister, also tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year, right as she got the first shot of her vaccine series. Her husband, Paul, got COVID-19 at the same time, and they both remember not understanding what was happening.
“I was out of my mind,” Mrs. Kaune said. “I couldn’t make our phone work. I didn’t have any recollection of real life.”
Her husband died in April due to COVID-19, and it’s now her sister she’s mourning.
“If you’re not planning to get vaccinated, please wear a mask,” Mrs. Kaune said. “And don’t go out in public.”
Mrs. Bevens’ half sister, Lisa Lowes, went from seeing what she calls the horrors of COVID-19 in her job as a home health aide at Samaritan Summit Village, to experiencing it within her own family. She’s now waiting for her sister’s ashes to arrive in Watertown and planning to address the circumstances at her calling hours on Friday. The last contact Ms. Lowes had with her sister was a text message saying she and her husband had tested positive for the virus.
“I can’t tell you to get vaccinated, but I can tell you it’s real,” Ms. Lowes said. “I don’t think it’s personal. I think it’s more or less of an educational thing.”
Ms. Lowe said she is not going to point the finger at people to get the shot even though she did. She does hope people will listen, though.
“I wouldn’t walk up to someone and say, ‘go get vaccinated,’” Ms. Lowes said. “Who am I to tell you what to do? But I would want somebody to hear what it’s like to be around people who have either died of COVID or were sick with it.”
Ms. Lowes said the beginning stages of the COVID-19 pandemic were heart wrenching. She saw residents having to enter quarantine and not be able to see their families for weeks on end. Seeing elderly residents not be able to leave their room brought on a sense of helplessness, and those days could repeat themselves. She said Summit Village is already back to wearing goggles and face masks as cases increase.
“I think people should have a choice whether or not they want to be vaccinated,” she said, “but if they heard the horror stories of family members losing loved-ones to COVID-19, they might change their mind a little bit.”
It’s possible not many people, if any, knew her sister and Mr. Alford were experiencing serious symptoms from the virus. Ms. Lowes said Mr. Alford had tested positive in early August before entering quarantine.
“People need to check on people,” Ms. Lowes said. “They might as well have painted their door black.”
The only comfort Ms. Lowes can take is what she has to believe her sister was doing to contract the virus.
“I know in my heart she died taking care of him,” Ms. Lowes said. “She continued to be the perfect wife that she was.”
Mrs. Bevens’ caretaking ways began at the Jefferson Rehabilitation Center, doing hands-on work with residents there.
“She got her hair pulled a lot,” Ms. Lowes said. “But she had a gift for it.”
Mrs. Bevens met Mr. Alford while he was stationed at Fort Drum, and they lived in Black River for years until they moved to Oklahoma, then to Texas, where he had family.
“She worked at a lot of different places and everyone fell in love with her,” Ms. Lowes said. “You couldn’t help but not fall in love with her. I think she had a bigger heart than we did.”
A celebration of life for Mrs. Bevens is scheduled for 4 p.m. today at the Brownville American Legion.