The number of Covid deaths in the United States is fast approaching 200,000. And while Americans of all ages have lost their lives, the vast majority are grandparents, great-grandparents, and their peers.
Millions of people are grieving them. Upon every death, about nine close relatives are left behind, research has shown. They rarely even get to say goodbye.
Back in May, I read this exquisitely beautiful story of a grandmother’s last days in a Long Island hospital. It remains one of the most moving pieces of journalism I’ve come across during these awful months.
Carmen Evelia Toro, 74, was known in her family as “Grandma Rocket” because she always hummed with energy. Originally from Colombia, Carmen lived in Queens with her adult granddaughter, Eliana Marcela Rendón, and Eliana’s husband and baby, Matias. Carmen took care of the baby while Eliana and her husband worked.
Carmen fell ill in mid-March, after traveling to Colombia with Eliana and Matias. By March 22, she had been admitted to North Shore University Hospital and had tested positive for the coronavirus. Like nearly all Covid patients, she was allowed no visitors. Her children and grandchildren kept in touch with her and with her medical team by phone.
“At home, Matias peeked around the curtain in the living room, searching for his great-grandmother,” writes Sheri Fink in The New York Times. “‘’Uuela, ’uela, ’uela,’ he called, meaning ‘grandma’—the way he always greeted her.”
When Carmen’s symptoms worsened, she was put on a ventilator. It didn’t help. Neither did steroids, or any of the other treatments her doctors tried.
On April 19, she was removed from the ventilator, and Eliana was finally allowed to see her. First, she protected herself with masks, gloves, goggles, and a gown.
Part of her still hoped for a miracle.
“The flowers are starting to bloom,” she told her unconscious grandmother. “Get up—the spring is finally here.”
But Carmen’s breaths were coming less and less often. Eliana kissed her forehead, stroked her arms, held her hands.
She stayed with her, praying, until the very end.