On May 19th, 2020 my Mom, Rosalie, died of COVID-19. She was the third oldest of twelve who left this world and crossed into Heaven to be with our Lord, my Dad and all our family who have passed before her. My Mom had one guiding principle that seemed to surface far more clearly than ever to me these past few weeks and that is to “Live Your Life” or in other words “We Code On…”.
I want to share this story with you.
If you are a fan of Disney, you will understand that play on words but I will explain later if you are not.
COVID-19 Takes Lives
Sadly on the day my Mom passed away, two other close friends also lost parents. One COVID-19 related and the other due to long term health issues but testing positive towards their end. The week prior another friend’s parent and the nursing home staffs in Pennsylvania saw deaths weekly.
I saw first hand how it took its toll on these health care professionals and heard the strain in my Mom’s doctor’s voice as he explained how helpless he felt as COVID-19 enjoyed itself as it engulfed the region I live.
I write this post today, June 4th, 2020, as a Pennsylvanian, in a ‘red’ county experiencing deaths daily and a little less than an hour away from NYC which is one of the U.S. epicenters of this virus. We are hoping to change to a new status but at this point, I am numb to this. I am not passionate about reopening or remaining closed and I understand the financial issues impacting families. But I also know we are not rid of this enemy.
A few years ago I shared a post about my Mom and thought I would keep updating it. She is the original driving force behind me and the GetMeCoding.com website. However, I wanted this story to stand out as a fully separate reflection and account of these things during the global pandemic of COVID-19.
COVID-19 Is A War We Were Not Prepared To Fight
This past Monday, on Memorial Day, a day I have traditionally come to know as a day we reflect on others who gave the highest price to protect the freedoms we cherish in the United States, I laid my Mom to rest in the place she set aside in 1977 when we buried my Dad at the young age of 42 years old.
You see, my Mom was a casualty in a war we were not prepared to fight.
As a former U.S. Marine Officer, I wound up boiling it down to that partly because of my military background and partly because of the basic truth in that. I could opine on the similarities with so many other global events over the past one hundred years as we think this is truly unique. It isn’t so unique to say we have not been down this path in the past.
It may not have been a virus but it has been facing an enemy. We often began unprepared but then rallied to win. Unfortunately, we lose many lives along the way.
Here is my reflection of this time with my Mom during COVID-19. It is not unlike others but it is my experience.
My Mom's Experience As Told By Her Son
As I stated here, my Mom was living a relatively peaceful life at a nursing home here in Northeast, PA. Her favorite dinner of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with an occasional treat of a Hershey bar or hard candy with a vitamin packed Boost supplement seemed to do the trick for her.
Probably not the best thing but it is what we allowed as she really didn’t like much of anything else.
She never had a cold or the flu those two years while staying in her nursing home. She had a routine that became comfortable for her. My Aunt and Uncle were regular visits as we all visited at various times.
Her health, although not great, was not also seeing her be what I call ‘fragile’. She was 80 years old with dementia doing her word find books daily and physical therapy to keep muscles active.
Our Visits Before COVID-19
Our visits, although unsettling to me since I wanted the 1986 version on Mom, ended with a kiss on her head, “I love ya Ma. Catch ya later and don’t take any wooden nickels”. Her reply would be “Thanks for visiting. See ya later.” Some times on a good day I would get a…”see ya later alligator”. We always like to joke with each other. In the days after her passing, friends would tell me about her sense of humor and wit they loved about her.
This was our routine for two years until March 2020. Flu signs began to be posted in January and that visitors who feel ill should not come to the nursing home. I began learning of this corona virus thing and like many, I thought it was never gonna impact us here in the U.S. and not in a nursing home.
Then the lock out of the nursing home began. No more visits from outsiders due the spread of COVID-19.
From March 2020 until her life’s end I was unable to visit with her physically. I, like many, listened to the stay at home order from our state governor but in the meantime, two miles down the road from my home in the Poconos, New York state residents, particularly New York City residents arrived, not self quarantining, to their lake homes.
Buses traveling to and from NYC to the city of Scranton continued as workers needed to work. I am not an expert in global pandemic matters, but I will always question why this was allowed as it felt like we were funneling a problem into our local health care system and endangering the prime demographic the virus loves to attack.
A Window Into Her Life - Video Chats During COVID-19
I would schedule video chats with my Mom so I could at least check in with her. The first call was one my wife who is a health care professional arranged. I was absolutely THRILLED to see my Mom. At first, it only felt temporary to do these calls but as time progressed it became unsettling.
My Mom clearly wondered where I was and why I wasn’t visiting. I have no doubt she probably felt like we abandoned her.
The staff was excellent in keeping us connected and would provide new word find puzzles that she loved to do. I was also told they would even pick her up from time to time a lottery ticket scratch off that she also looked forward too. Oh, and a hard candy would find its way to her too. That got you a big smile they would tell me.
On the video chat with her before testing positive with COVID-19, I noticed an odd behavior as she seemed to struggle focusing on my face in the little “hand held’ box we call a smartphone. I thought it was caused by the fact the staff now was in full PPE gear (aka spacesuits) and seeing my face appear in someone’s hand from a talking box.
All this can be very odd to a dementia or alzheimer’s patient as I was reminded by my brother-in-law who is a psychiatrist.
Since her room was on interior of the building, they were unable to move her to a window so I could stop by and see her. That too was a conversation we had but due to the early spread of COVID-19 in her facility, they did not want to expose her to it.
The Beginning of my Mom's End
Her end began with a call on a Monday afternoon letting me know they are seeing the virus present itself differently than a high temperature and dry cough. She was being lethargic and simply not herself.
Nursing home residents were presenting this as a symptom that at the time was not being told in the news media. They would curl up in bed and not respond to questions or conversations as they normally would. My Mom’s signs prompted a COVID-19 test and within a long 48 hours, she tested positive. Oddly her temperature never ran higher than 99 and she didn’t present the dry cough.
I couldn’t believe she tested positive but at the same time, I was learning sixty other residents of the nursing home were also positive. It apparently was a matter of time she was going to be positive.
I immediately got on a call with her primary care physician and I learned of three non-FDA approved treatments but all possibly lead to an outcome of death due to her vascular conditions and some other preexisting health conditions.
My Mom never liked hospitals and her experiences with doctors was never favorable. Prior to moving to her nursing home, she was placed in the hospital with the “flu”. Her blood pressure was so low I was told she may not last much longer. She would pull out IV’s they used to give her fluids and medicine. She would then carry on letting everyone know they were crazy giving the hospital staff a very difficult time and attempt to leave.
She rebounded physically from that bout with the flu but I could also see there was something changed in her mental health. The dementia seemed to have worsened not always recognizing me and seeing dazed.
During the next few days I struggled greatly with knowing I held my Mom’s life in my hand as to which treatment path to go down. Keep her in the nursing home where everyone knows her or send her to the hospital to a totally different unknown environment where she would be treated as another body and essentially be forced to stay in a bed. The latter seemed like torture for her.
I called friends who lost parents over the years and were care givers for their parents to get advice and support. I learned there are no clear cut answers. At this time too, there is no silver bullet drug no matter what is said in the news. Treatments vary for everyone and there simply is not enough data to give a doctor a clear path to guide you. This enemy is smart.
My choice was to have her stay at the nursing home and treat there as she battled through it.
The Fog of War
In war and conflict there is a great deal of ‘fog’ or as military leader Carl von Clausewitz notes in his book “On War”, ‘friction’. It is a required reading for U.S. Marine Officers going through their schooling in Quantico, VA..
Not the fog in the physical sense, although I am sure it exists, but in the sense of so many unknowns as you try to make decisions. In war, you leverage this fog or friction of the unknown that your enemy is in so you can disrupt them. Once you disrupt them, their decision making ability falters.
When it falters, it creates areas of opportunity that can be exploited so that you can defeat them. That is where I was on May 16th, 2020. I was in the fog of the virus trying to understand how to get my Mom help.
On Friday and Saturday I began having difficulty reaching anyone in the nursing home for an update. It made me angry. I don’t blame anyone for not getting back to me as they were on the front lines dealing with the residents.
If you are reading this either you have had someone you know test positive and possibly died, or you have not. If you have not, then this virus may appear like the “boogey-man” or some made up conspiracy theory. It is not made up. It is real.
COVID-19 is more real than I could have ever imagined.
Saturday I tried to keep active working in the yard. If I sat I began to worry. So at the end of a busy day getting our outside yard in order as it may be a long summer of “staying home”, I had a couple of drinks and relaxed a bit. It then began to play on my mind as our family gathered for dinner. So I sat in another room trying to contact the nursing home and no one would answer.
No one picked up the phone as I dialed over and over.
At that point, I completely lost it. I began to yell. I rarely, if ever, get angry. All of a sudden I found the enemy disrupting me. It all felt unfair. I felt like I left my Mom, who gave me everything, all alone. Something she never did to me.
I felt like I let my Dad down who left me to be the man of the house at age 9 and take care of my Mom.
I was built to withstand hardships as a Marine Officer. I am educated and a college professor that deals with many complex problems. I am a small business owner who helps others see through their problems.
This one problem was beating me hands down.
I prayed that night once I let it all out. I formally gave it to God. When I went to bed that night, I simply said “God, I place this at your feet. It is yours and I will abide by where you take me and my family”.
The next day, I heard from the nursing home. I learned she was not getting enough fluids and wasn’t eating. The virus was working its way around her. The virus was enjoying its time at the nursing home.
That Monday I received a call asking if I wanted to video chat with my Mom. There was a sense of urgency in the social workers voice. He is a young fellow and in the middle of seeing people die weekly. I felt I needed to see her as in my heart, I knew we were rapidly approaching some kind of event. To be honest, I still had hope she would beat it as she beat so many challenges in her life.
My Mom was a fighter since day one. She was the matriarch of her family that took care of her mother after two strokes and a number of siblings. She raised me on her own and paid off our home. She worked a long career as a manager with a high school degree and taught me how to trust God and have faith. She can beat this.
When the screen for the video chat turned to my Mom, I stood in a room in my home by myself. What I saw scared me. I saw my Mom writhing, her head moving all around and eyes wide open. The social worker called out to my Mom, “Rosalie, it is your son Freddie.”
She immediately turned to him but I can see she could not say much and was very disoriented. My Mom was not doing good. The call ended and I thought that was to be the last time I saw my Mom alive.
I walked outside and looked up at the sky praying to God. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t sad. I was just ‘being’.
That night I slept the full night. It was a first time in many months I did. I woke up and wept down to my office in my house and looked at my phone. There was a text that just came in from my Mom’s doctor. “Can you talk?”
When I called him, he calmly said, “Fred, your mom is dying.”. He asked for me if I wanted to come down and see her. Of course I said yes and he warned me that I would need to put on PPE gear, etc.. Of course. I told my wife and we quickly got ready and then a follow on text and conversation took place. The nursing home would not authorize me going into the nursing home.
They said they would have my Mom in a bed by a window for us to see her.
My final hour with my Mom was spent with me, forehead pressed to the glass speaking through my cell phone to a phone placed on her pillow. Her eyes were closed, breathing slow and deep. She appeared to be in no pain. The nurses sat peacefully by her side, holding her hand and gently stroking her arm.
My kids caught up to my wife and I at the window along with my Aunt, her youngest sister who has been my side through all this, my Uncle who is her younger brother and like a brother to me, my Bishop from the church she attended all her life, and my one friend who has been with me since kindergarten, all got to say our final words to her.
The nurse gently removed her IV. I watched every moment of it as it was done in a very caring way.
The nurse at that point, said it was ok for us to take a break as my Mom appeared to be holding steady. We decided to get a coffee, something I know my Mom would have encouraged, and it was then that I got the call.
As I heard the words, “Fred, your Mom has passed away” tears ran down my face. It was then she shared the final moments with her. You see my Mom never liked being inside. Whether sitting on side porch with a coffee, picking the endless number of “yellow flowers” in her yard, walking to the cemetery near her home, or just sitting on her front steps of her house, she didn’t like being confined.
The nurse then shared this with us.
Once we stepped away from the window, the nurse wanted to crack open the window and let some fresh spring air into the room. My Mom continued to breathe slowly and deeply. As the window opened, a spring breeze rushed into the room where my Mom laid. The nurse then glanced at her and they noticed she had left this world. She was now outside and free of this life.
She left on her terms.
Since that day, we have laid my Mom to rest alongside my Dad at our church cemetery, we have been wrapped in a blanket of love and support from so many of our family and friends, her friends from our church, and from her co-workers over the many years. We are truly blessed.
After the morning of the funeral, I spent a few days reflecting. She taught me everything to make me who I am today. She taught me to love God and be a fierce friend. She reminded me to work hard in school and teach others. She also introduced me to the world of CODING and exploring technology.
She also let me become who I wanted to be. I explored life with her one guiding principle that I stated at the beginning…..LIVE YOUR LIFE.
My Mom took me to Disneyland in 1979 and then to Walt Disney World in 1982. It sparked my love of all things Disney. Over many trips with my family we would visit EPCOT in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. There you would see the nighttime fireworks show known as Illuminations.
As you would exit the park a song called “Promise” sung by Kellie Coffey would play (visit on Youtube). Although Illuminations is no longer a show in EPCOT, this song and these lyrics will always hold a special place in my heart.
We’ll Go On, Growing Closer Through The Years Moving On, Through The Good Times And The Tears Ever On, Another Thousand Circles Round The Sun A New Life Has Begun, The Two Of Us As One, We’ll Go On
So, Mom, I will “Go on”. We will continue to be a team in memory and spirit.
And if I can just put one small spin on this phrase….” We’ll CODE ON” well….because….my Mom always taught me to move forward and live my life doing what I wanted to do. I love coding and tech. I will go on dong just that.
Mom, thank you for all you did for me, all you gave up for me, and all the times you stood by me.
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