A Tale of Two Losses: My COVID-19 Story

Within a span of 33 days, I first lost my grandfather, and then my mother, to COVID-19.

GoFundMe: I would truly appreciate any support for my family, especially my little sister, as we navigate this devastating loss.

Losing my Grandfather, Merlin Eugene Larson

My grandparents with my daughter Helena (who turns 11 years old today)

My grandfather had been living at the Johnson Memorial Care Center (a nursing home) in Dawson: a small, rural farm community with a population of about 1500 people where both of my parents grew up. 

For the first 9 months of the pandemic, the care center had done a good job of containing the virus. Since they only allowed scheduled visitations of residents outside, and reservations were hard to get, I was unable to visit my grandfather this year, but I felt the sacrifice was worth it since those protections were keeping him safe.

That all changed in November, 2020. We were alerted that a member of the staff had infected a few other caregivers, and one resident had just tested positive. 

The official statement from the Care Center’s website shows how quickly the virus spread once it was inside their walls:

“On November, 29 one resident tested positive for COVID-19, by December 2, there were 11 more. JMHS had 24 positive residents by December 7, and a COVID-19 unit was established in the River Road Neighborhood in the Care Center. Contract staff was retained to help in the COVID-19 unit, the US Public Health Services agency brought out 12 personnel (10 of which were Registered Nurses) to assist for a week during the Outbreak. When they exited, they were followed by 14 members of the National Guard (3 Registered Nurses and 11 Basic Care Aides).”

My grandfather tested positive in the 3rd batch of tests. He didn’t show many symptoms initially, but gradually his health declined and then he stopped eating. He died on Dec 21. It was heartbreaking knowing he had likely died alone, without any of his family to comfort him or say goodbye.

My family planned a small, in-person funeral at my grandparents church for immediate family only. My grandma attended along with my uncle, two aunts and a few of their kids and grandkids. My mom was weary to attend, but in the end, decided to go. My 25-year-old sister went with her, since she had the lowest health risk. In total, there were roughly 15 people in attendance, and everyone was distanced and masked during the entire service.

Losing my mother, Karen Aileen Mogard

Mom with her favorite drink, the aptly named “Sunburn”, on our last vacation together to Aruba last year

Two days after the funeral, my mom started experiencing flu-like symptoms, so she immediately scheduled a COVID-19 test. My brother’s partner is a COVID-19 intake nurse for the Mayo Clinic, so she was able to get her in for a rapid test at a nearby clinic.

Mom received her positive test result on New Years Eve, and texted us all that morning to let us know. We were immediately concerned. Even though she had just turned 60 the week before and was relatively healthy, she was always the unlucky one experienced the unlikely and improbable side-effects of an operation, or who came down with more serious forms of illness. She assured us she was fine, and was just resting at home. We sent a Shipt over with a pulse oximeter to track her oxygen and all kinds of vitamins to boost her immune system.

However, the next day (New Year’s Day), she was admitted to the ER with difficulty breathing, chest tightness and fever. Although my brother, sister and I were obviously very concerned, the doctors seemed pretty optimistic about her prognosis. 

Things suddenly took a turn for the worse on Jan 5, when she was intubated (placed on a ventilator) before we could even talk to her. It all happened so fast.

The next couple of weeks were full of ups and downs, which the doctors had warned us about. But even they were surprised by the unexpected setbacks she experienced. Three weeks after she was admitted, we had to make the gut-wrenching decision to remove her from life support. There was no longer any hope for survival. The doctors were baffled, but they said there is still so much they don’t understand about COVID-19, and all their normal ideas about prognosis no longer hold true. They don’t understand why some people get better, and why some don’t.

Nothing prepared us for the loss of our mother, our matriarch. She had just turned 60! We had so many plans, so much life left to share with her, so many more travels. It has been utterly devastating, and we will still be reeling from this blow for years to come. I cannot imagine spending the rest of my life without my mother, and yet, that is the future in store for me and my family.

Why am I sharing this heartbreaking tale of loss?

  1. COVID-19 is CRUEL. So many people are still denying the severity of COVID-19 and are not taking basic precautions. Please, please, please—take it seriously. Especially with the new, more dangerous variants on the rise. You do not want to go through what my family is experiencing. Stay home as much as you possible can. Wear a mask, or a double mask. Use soap or hand-sanitizer liberally. BE SAFE.
  2. My grandfather, and especially my mother, did all the right things. We barely saw either of them in person for the past year. When we saw my mom, it was outside, distanced and masked. We made art or played games over Zoom, instead of in-person. We were CAUTIOUS, and yet, they still lost their lives. You are only as safe as the people around you. Don’t be the cause of someone else’s death because of your carelessness.
  3. My little sister is only 25 years old, and is now essentially orphaned (her father was never in the picture). She was still reliant on my mom for health insurance, and other financial assistance. She was working as a server when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US, so she has spent much of the past year out of work. My heart aches for her, more so than it does for my loss. We originally set up a Go Fund Me for mom’s medical bills, but that will now be handled by the estate. Any funds now will be spent on cremation and memorial first, while any leftover funds will be given to my sister to ensure she is supported financially in my mother’s absence. If you have the means, I would truly appreciate any donations to support my sister via our GoFundMe.
Me, my brother Jeremy, my sister Brianna, and my mom – in happier times, goofing around as always

If there’s anything I’ve learned from this, it’s to fully appreciate what you have and not take anything, or anyone, for granted.

Please take care of yourselves AND EACH OTHER.

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