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person in black sweatshirt looking in window at her grandmother

Through a window, via Facetime and a cell phone — that is how people are saying goodbye during the COVID-19 pandemic. We know, we experienced this last week.  Two of us experienced this with a death of a family member within 24 hours of each other. One death from COVID-19 and another from natural causes, yet the final goodbyes were said without physical touch or personal intimacy with the families.

Susan’s Story
The last day of March 2020 ended with many tears. I received word that my Aunt Patty had died from complications of COVID-19. She was an active and healthy woman with a life-long passion for learning. She made history by becoming the first lay female Catholic Chaplain assigned to a U.S. Military Hospital.

Patty was in the hospital for two days prior to her death.  No visitors were allowed to see her. When Patty took a turn for the worse in the middle of the night, her daughter was awoken to a phone call saying her mother was dying, but she would not be permitted to be in the room with her because of the danger of the disease spreading. 

The family requested a priest be present to perform the Last Rites.  This is usually done face to face with the priest anointing the sick. However, the priest was barred from being in the same room with Patty. He performed this religious sacrament over an intercom while the nurse held Patty’s hand. Patty’s daughter said her goodbye to her mother and a final “I love you” over the phone. Those were her last moments with her mother. A funeral is currently not possible because of the government’s limit on 10 people or less being together.  The family is planning a traditional funeral mass to be celebrated in four to six months from now.

Girl with hand on forehead - a screen shot from a facetime phone call

Shannon’s Story
On April 1,2020, I never imagined that I would have to say goodbye to my Baba (the name some Russian grandchildren call their grandma) through a FaceTime chat with my sister. Ohio had a “Stay at Home” order in place, and traveling to New York was out of the question.

I found out that the facility where Baba lived was not allowing anyone in the room.  This was the opposite of what I had expected. I had always envisioned Baba’s family surrounding her, playing games, and talking, as we held her hand,  being next to her. 

However, due to this awful COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing requirements, that was not possible. Baba lived on the first floor of a nursing home. Her children, as well as grandchildren were able to send their love and communication with her only through her window. 

My sister said, “I  taught her  how to say ‘I love you’ through her glass window. So that’s what we did. We smiled, we cried, we said we love each other, and we blew kisses. All through a glass window. I would have risked getting what she had.. Just to have been there with her while she passed. To have held her hand, to have told her it’s okay, you’ve been strong all your life.”

Girl sitting in a chair looking into a window

The night before our grandma passed, my sister called me. She was outside of Baba’s window in the rain and cold, face pressed against the glass, looking at her grandma. My sister only had a sweatshirt on, but refused to leave the window. She told me that nobody should have to die alone.

Through the FaceTime chat with my sister, I could see Baba periodically glance up, and gently smile at my sister.

 My sister said, “It got to the point where there were no more times she looked over. There were no more times she opened her eyes.” My sister didn’t want her grandma to wake up and see she was  alone.

The hardest thing for my family was to walk away from that window, knowing it was the last time any of us would ever see our Baba alive. I cried because I couldn’t be there physically and hold her had. I wanted to tell her one last time I love her.

Later that night, my mom had called to let me know that Baba had passed.

A burial for Baba was held two days after she passed. Only 7 people were able to attend, all practicing social distancing. It was unusual for my close-knit family not to be able to give hugs to one another during this very emotional time. For me, not being able to attend her burial was very difficult. My mom and sister called me after the burial, and we grieved together over the phone.

Authors: Susan Zies, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Wood County and Shannon Smith, MFN, RD, LD, CDCES, Ohio State University, Wood County

Reviewer: Jami Dellifield, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Hardin County

Photo Credits:
Photos taken by Shannon Smith and Kristy Smith

References:

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
  2. https://mhanational.org/covid19
  3. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/04/07/828317535/coronavirus-is-changing-the-rituals-of-death-for-many-religions
  4. https://livehealthyosu.com/2019/09/30/healthy-brain-aging/
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fprepare%2Fmanaging-stress-anxiety.html
  6. https://content.govdelivery.com/attachments/OHOOD/2020/04/02/file_attachments/1418062/Signed%20Amended%20Director%27s%20Stay%20At%20Home%20Order.pdf
  7. https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/covid19/
  8. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/love-and-sex-in-the-digital-age/202003/covid-19-and-the-grief-process

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park

While scanning the paper recently, an obituary caught my eye:

“After 96 years of vigorous living, Ralph passed peacefully. His enthusiasm for life was contagious. He made friends easily wherever he went.  He made a difference in people’s lives, challenging people to do their best in business, sports, in their families and even in their fun.   He mentored many associates both young and old.  Believing in the rights and dignity of all, he organized an open housing committee at the peak of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. His family was the most important part of his life, especially his wife with whom everyday was a party. Their life together was fun. Join us to celebrate his life at the 18th green with a reception to follow in the clubhouse.”

After reading this, I wondered.  Are we living our best life? We all want to live better, more fulfilling and happier lives. Are we taking the time and necessary steps to achieve these goals?

Start today:

  • Be grateful
  • Be kind to others
  • Get enough sleep
  • Spend more time with loved ones
  • Smile more
  • Forgive
  • Exercise
  • Eat well
  • Spread positive energy
  • Get more sleep
  • Get fresh air
  • Volunteer
  • Enjoy a part of everyday

We only get one life. Forget about what other people are doing and focus on your life and your path to happiness.  At the end of the day and at the end of your life, that is all that matters.

I wish I had known Ralph.   He has inspired me to live my best life.  Thank you Ralph.

Written by:  Beth Stefura, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Mahoning County, stefura.2@osu.edu

Reviewed by:  Donna Green, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Erie County, green.308@osu.edu

Sources:

https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/choosing-to-be-happy#1

https://www.franklincovey.com/the-7-habits.html

 

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