COVID-19’s Heartbreaking Toll on Families

COVID-19’s Heartbreaking Toll on Families

One of the most harrowing cruelties of the pandemic has been the separation of families. As lockdowns went into effect and dragged on for months, loved ones were forced to endure previously unimaginable stretches of time without seeing each other.

Isolated. Lonely. Anxious.

In the worst scenarios, our mothers, fathers, grandparents, children and siblings slipped away under the grip of COVID-19 without the comfort of those closest to them. No last looks. No soothing words. No reassuring touches. Instead, many were fated to a solitary passing at home alone or in a care facility tended by a stranger.

Circling the Wagons 

Like many, Tricia quickly found herself scrambling to protect her family.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, I moved my mom in with me,” she explains. “She’d started having some cognitive impairment, and her husband of 33 years was already in assisted living with a number of co-morbidities and physical issues. I wanted mom close to me so I could protect her. We packed her up, sold her house, and had her moved in with me within three weeks.”

Tricia’s stepfather, Ray, was a different story. He needed far more care than she could provide in a home environment. When the pandemic began to ramp up, his care facility went into lockdown.

“We couldn’t see him at all,” she remembers. “For months that was the status quo. A few window visits were the exception. We’d use the phone to talk with him while looking through the glass, and have video chats when someone could help him figure out how to do that. We’d be notified on occasion of an exposure within the facility, and each time we held our breath waiting to see if he’d been infected. Thankfully, he made it through that phase of the pandemic.”

Feeling Powerless to Help

Sadly, with resources stretched thin, Ray often had to fend for himself and fell a couple of times. He had to undergo several surgeries to put him back together. Tricia is still haunted by the fact that she and her mother weren’t allowed to wait in the hospital during his surgeries or see him in recovery afterward due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

“After rehab, Ray ended up in a full-time nursing facility, and we were able to see him there with negative COVID tests – which we had to get weekly,” Tricia notes. “Unfortunately, due to the back-to-back hospital and in-patient stays, he soon ran out of Medicare days and was placed on Medicaid. Most all of his rehabilitation and upgraded care services stopped and he was moved into a shared Medicaid room.”

Not long afterward, Ray contracted COVID, potentially exposing Tricia and her mom to the virus – and more heartache.

“We try not to think about this,” she says. “It’s so painful. He died alone in the hospital just seven days after being diagnosed. COVID completely ravaged his body. He was ultimately placed on comfort care and we were forced to wait at home during his last hours. Mom and I couldn’t really console each other for fear of possibly giving one another the virus.”

Heartache on Two Fronts

Just a month earlier, Tricia was also trying to help her father and stepmother dodge the disease.

“My stepmom had stage 4 cancer and decided to stop all treatment. She was sent home on hospice, and somehow contracted COVID. She passed away in October with my dad beside her. Every day, I had to make a gut-wrenching decision about whether to be with my dad in his time of need, or protect my mom.”

Along with the tremendous emotional toll, Tricia suffered a physical toll, too.

“Somewhere along the way, I contracted COVID. I remember feeling achy for a few days, but that was it,” she adds. “All my COVID tests were negative. I tested positive for the antibodies after going to the doctor for heart problems several weeks later. I am now one of the many dealing with long COVID, and I’m on daily heart medication. There’s a chance I could need valve surgery later. The worst part is brain fog. That is very real.”

Despite all the angst and heartache, Tricia finds comfort in one fact: Somehow, neither of her birth parents contracted COVID-19.

“Luckily, staying away from mom at times, even while living under the same roof, kept her safe. She and my dad are both vaccinated now and it’s such a relief not to have to juggle safety concerns between them.”

She is troubled, though, by those who ignore the dangers.

“Many members of my own family have still not altered their behavior – even after some of them and their children have come down with the virus. Not even after death has come knocking. How do we convince folks to change if we can’t convince family members?”

How has the pandemic affected your family? Share your story in the comments.