On the evening of Friday, December 18, this email came from my cousin Alice:
“Received a phone call from personnel at Duke Hospital tonight—Mom passed away at 9:18 p.m. She was peaceful and not in any pain.”
This end of life for my Aunt Hedy came courtesy of COVID-19.
For all you knuckleheads out there who refuse to validate the vicious nature of this virus, Hedy, even with an exceptionally strong heart, lasted a week. The virus smothered her lungs.
Sadly, this scene has played out across America and across the world too many times.
Time and time again, I have read about the challenge for families who have a loved one suddenly isolated in a hospital room. This COVID-19 patient is sealed off from the care, grace, and love of family. I can only begin to imagine how difficult that is.
During Hedy’s brief battle, she did rally. That rally through the magic of technology video allowed the family to see and interact with her. Even in her weakness, Hedy was amazed at the capacity of technology to do this.
But after that one rally, the email updates from Alice took a different path. The virus like a hurricane that gains strength from an extra helping of warm tropical air revved up its assault.
With the sudden downturn, the doctor, with an abundance of safety protocols in place allowed two family members to visit. Alice and her brother, David were able to see their mother. I’m sure that was tough for their brother, Stuart, who resides on the North Carolina coast near Wilmington.
After that visit, the doctor working with Hedy and the family thought she might last another three days. I wonder how many other families the doctor has delivered that same countdown?
When I think about the life that Hedy and her husband, my Uncle John, carved out with each other, one thing is crystal clear—love.
I don’t know that I have ever seen such an influential love.
Their bond, their strength was grounded in so many things, but especially their love of family. And always, always embedded in their love was their faith in the good Lord. He was never absent in their journey, and they were never shy about proclaiming this.
With their love, Hedy and John were seed planters.
Their three children Alice, Stuart, and David took the love of their parent’s template and built their families with the same love foundation.
That love can be felt and seen with their children and grandchildren. It is one of those powerful generational links that I don’t believe can ever be broken with this family. The lessons are practical and strong with a dose of stubborn endurance.
But when I think of Hedy, one word comes to mind—sweet.
I don’t think God made a sweeter person. She was as sweet as sugar cane, honey, and molasses.
That sweetness was her friendly smile, sparkling eyes, and I always felt she was a gentle listener. She wanted to know your stories, the stories of your children, and grandchildren. And like Santa Claus patiently listens, Hedy patiently listened too.
After my mother passed in 1992, our oldest daughter, Lauren, noted that Hedy became like a surrogate grandmother for her, and her siblings, Andrew, and Elizabeth.
Hedy took them under her wing providing them with gifts and thoughtful cards. And, Hedy even knitted hats for Lauren’s two children. Just one more example of how sweet Hedy was to all of us.
For the rest of my living days, when I see Alice’s daughter, Erin, I will see Hedy. To my old eyes their is an uncanny resemblance.
I’m sure that Alice, Stuart, and David wanted to be at Hedy’s bedside, in that hospital room.
It would have been part of the pay back for nursing them through measles, mumps, chicken pox, ear aches, flu, and stomach bugs.
There is no comfort in this, but right now, you were not alone in your inability to hold her hand, and to speak your last words of love to her. That’s what COVID-19 does—it robs us of normal.
And while it might rob us of normal, that demon can never steal the love that Hedy and John imprinted in you and on you. That is your DNA.
In the whirlwind of what lies ahead, revisit those cherished family stories, their bond, their commitment, and let the love in each of those sustain you and your families.
And in the end, when you can’t be at the bedside hold on to the love from which you were molded.
That love will keep you going.
And as that love keeps you going, don’t forget to find some laughter in your tears.
Post bedside gatherings need humor too.
Thanks Aunt Hedy for your sweet love, say hi to Uncle John for us in the blue yonder.
*Author’s note: The photo included here is courtesy of our oldest daughter. It features our first granddaughter, Caroline, curiously exploring my cousin Alice’s face. Perfectly angled between Caroline and Alice is Aunt Hedy with her gracious loving smile. This photo was taken at the Saxapahaw General Store in Saxapahaw, North Carolina.