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Saying Goodbye through the Loving Hands of a Nurse

Because of COVID-19, the rec center in Dad’s retirement community was closed. Determined to continue exercising, my vigorous 89-year-old father went for a walk. We don’t know what happened, but passers-by found him on the ground. Paramedics were called; flat-line ECG. He was resuscitated and placed on a ventilator. Unfortunately, his brain appeared damaged.

Despite the emerging pandemic, my sister and I traveled to Arizona. We sat by his side and held his hand.

Then, the rules changed: No visitors allowed.

We couldn’t see Dad, hold him or touch him, so my sister and I returned to our homes. After a week of talking on the phone and getting second-hand reports, they asked how long we wanted to continue life support. I didn’t think this kind of decision should be made from afar, but we seemed to have no choice.

We pleaded to see my father so we could assess his limited activity. His ICU nurse, Emily, set up a Zoom. On a video conference, we saw Dad and tearfully agreed it was time to say goodbye.

We were grateful to learn that one person was allowed to be with a loved one at the end of life. My sister drove back to Arizona to be with Dad in his last moments.

Then, the rules changed again. No visitors, even at the end of life.

We didn’t want Dad to die alone.

Again, Emily set up a Zoom. All the children and grandchildren were able to say goodbye from a safe distance. Emily held my father’s hand, stroked his shoulder and his hairline. She was with him, she represented all of us. We said goodbye, tubes were pulled, dad took his last breath, we cried.

Next, Emily did what we wanted to do, but couldn’t. She laid her body across his, and wept together with us.

Dad didn’t die of COVID-19. But without the COVID-19 restrictions, he would have exercised at the rec center. There, someone would have noticed and started CPR. Maybe he would have survived.

Without his nurse, my father would have been alone at the end of his life. Emily created a video experience for our family, she was professional, and she touched my dad with loving tenderness. This distant experience was strangely intimate. Emily lifted me and my family up when we needed it most.

In the end, Dad didn’t have to die alone. Emily was with him.

David Thoele
Chicago, Illinois