Dear Editor: My neighbors, a pastor and his wife were home, on hospice, dying from covid. Sunday evening, the pastor died. I went with his son to the hospital Tuesday and we watched the respiratory therapist remove the breathing tube from his 33-year-old daughter who is developmentally disabled. With tears streaming down our cheeks, we witnessed her life ending and her homegoing to heaven beginning. On Wednesday, I went to the father and daughter’s funeral. On Saturday, his wife died. Three members of one family dead in a week; four others in the hospital recovering from covid, including their 10-year-old granddaughter.
The parents were lovingly cared for by their adult children. Their daughter from Thailand arrived a week before the outbreak for a three-month visit with her family, having no idea she would be nursing and burying her parents and sister. Two other children live in Sweden and, through video on phones, were able to be a part of their parents’ and sisters’ last days. Their son from Indiana, who was vaccinated and not sick with covid, came to Georgia to care for them. He asked for my help in navigating through all the bureaucratic systems that one encounters at the end of life – medical; hospice; funeral; banking; household bills; social security; and more. This is difficult for any person to do but is especially cumbersome when English is not your first language.
It has been a heavy two weeks filled with sorrow, tears, difficult conversations, and grief, overwhelming grief. Here are some of the questions asked of me this week:
1. From a grandson: My grandparents went to the doctor today and then were taken to the hospital by 911 but we don’t know where they are. Can you find them for us?
2. From the son: My sister (developmentally disabled), her breathing is very sick but we cannot let her go to the hospital by herself (due to covid, no one is allowed in the hospital). She does not understand anything. She can’t speak. She won’t eat and drink nothing. We cannot care for her at home so what should we do?
3. From the son: Can you go to the hospital and tell our mother not to come home? We want her to stay in the hospital and get better. Our father is not with us much longer so it is impossible for us to lose our mother too.
4. A 5 a.m. call from the ER doctor about the sister: Her oxygen levels are low. We need to know if the family wants us to do CPR or is she a DNR? Can you help us with this?
5. A text from a pulmonary doctor about the wife: Her oxygen levels are low. We can send her to ICU, she will be intubated, will likely die in the hospital. What was her response to being told that you help people die comfortably at home? Did she seem comfortable with that idea or reluctant?
6. Various questions as the situation changed: Should we tell our parents that our baby sister is in the hospital too? Should we tell our brother and sister-in-law that our father has gone? How do we explain to our brother and sister-in-law about our sister (who was extubated and died)? How can we tell our brother and sister-in-law about our mother?
7. From the son: When the funeral home people come and get my father, how can we get his body out of the house without my mother seeing and hearing what is happening? We have not told her that he has died because we don’t want to discourage her. (They decided to tell mother about her husband’s death but she never knew about her daughter’s death.)
8. From the son: We do not know if my father paid the rent for this month. He took care of all his bills so we don’t know where his checks are or anything. Will they ask us to leave the apartment if he did not pay? (I called the rental person; August was paid.)
9. From the son: When you call the funeral home, can you ask if the director remembers how to get to the church or if we need to meet him halfway? (The church is in very remote, rural area but the director has now gone twice so he can make the third trip on his own.)
10. From the son: We want my brother and sister-in-law (both in hospital) to come to the funeral of our mother because they could not come for our father and sister. So what do you think? Is this possible? Can you call the doctor and ask?
These questions, so precious, so hopeful, so heartbreaking to hear. And so hard to answer. How do you tell a wife that you won’t let her die in the hospital but will bring her home so she can die with her husband? How to say to a son that you can’t take your mother to Indiana to care for her because she only has days to live? Never did I imagine I would be having these conversations with my refugee neighbors. Never did I imagine we would bury three family members in one week.
The son and daughter who provided constant care and attention to their dying parents were vaccinated. None of the other family members were vaccinated due to religious reasons that I don’t understand or agree with. Standing near two open caskets at the funeral, I implored people to get vaccinated so we can put an end to the sickness and suffering that covid is causing to our families and our community. There is much love and care for one another in this small refugee community. While I am filled with sorrow for what these last two weeks have been, I am honored for the trust given to me to see them through this tragic journey.
When I was in the hospital with the mother, I promised I would bring her home to be cared for by her sons and daughters. The last words she whispered to me were, “Thank you. God bless you.”