Stories: Who You Have Lost

One Last Talk

Story aboutWalter Lovelace Jr.

I lost my dad. My dad was everything; my role model, my best friend, my everything. One day in September my father told me he was in the hospital with Covid-19. I was shocked because he was so cautious when it came to the virus but the last Saturday in September changed my life forever.

My father called me from the hospital asking for me to bring him some underwear. I told him I was at work and that I couldn’t leave. He told me, “Make your money son.” That was the last conversation I ever had with my dad. The next day my father stopped breathing and was pronounced to be in a coma. My father fought for two months to try to beat it but it was too late.

On November 6th, I got a phone call at 3:20am saying that my dad wasn’t going to make it till morning. We had had a meeting scheduled for that morning to come up with a plan to help save my father. So I got up and hurried to make it down there. When I arrived, it was just me and my dad in the room for almost an hour. Then, my little sister arrived. But before that, during the time it was just me there with my dad, for that whole hour, I was just holding his hand. I couldn’t believe my best friend could not talk to me.

My sister and I were sitting in the room with my father and the nurse told me that we needed to make a decision about whether to take him off of life support or let him pass in a nursing home on his own. We told them we would rather let him go with his kids in the room, rather than having him pass alone somewhere else.

So, dad passed away at 6:05am that morning. We watched his heart rate slowly drop.

I went home to process everything that had just happened. Over the next few days the funeral was planned. Though not only the funeral because my sweet baby girl, my first child, was going to try to make her way into the world. She could come at any moment. Yes, my dad passed away before meeting his first grandchild. He had been excited to be a grandfather and couldn’t wait to meet her.

In the next couple of weeks my dad’s funeral was held and he was buried in Alabama. I distanced myself from his family because my father was the only person I could trust. But then, two weeks after the funeral, three days before my dad’s birthday, my daughter Kendyll was born on November 20th at 12:04pm in the same hospital where my dad passed away.

Most dads cry when they hear their baby’s first cry. I couldn’t even cry though because my smile was ear to ear when I saw her pretty face. She looked just like my dad. I couldn’t believe that the worst month had turned into the greatest month of my life. After that I didn’t worry about the family I was born into because I have my own family now. I’m doing much better. My daughter is almost seven months old. My dad is always with me and my sister.

Her name was June. She was my grandmother.

Story aboutJune Hill (1 of 2)

When you lose someone, you lose them in a thousand different ways.

You lose her birthday cards that come to your mailbox; you lose her voice on the other end of the receiver. You miss the image of her, sitting in the lift chair, feet kicked up. You miss the taste of her creamed potatoes, the liver spots on her hands, the way her fingers crooked at their ends. You miss her black hair with silver streaks, the pitch in her voice when she laughs. You lose making plans to see her. You lose new pictures and new memories as if she’s vanished from the frame.

About a week ago, I talked to my grandmother on the phone. She had a dry cough and had been to an urgent care where they diagnosed her with bronchitis. She said she took cough medicine twice a day, and she was surprised that the syrup tasted good. Her voice sounded strong even though she said her legs had been weak. She couldn’t get up to “wet” because her legs would fall out from under her. She’d managed to get a wastebasket, pulling it to her chair. When she felt like she was about to explode, she’d hover over it. She said she managed not to make a mess.

I don’t remember everything we talked about, it seems so trivial now, but I know we talked about Gov. Andy Beshear and his updates, showing true leadership. She mentioned that she’d put a card in the mail for my youngest, who turns 7 on April 10. We said, “I love you,” keeping the conversation brief, so she didn’t cough.

A few days later, my father called to say that she had been taken by ambulance to Baptist Health Madisonville because she was so weak. Aunt Beverly had to sit outside in the parking lot because no visitors were allowed. Aunt Bev sat there, not knowing what to do other than call around, updating family, and calling the hospital for updates.

Her name was June.

Story aboutJune Hill (2 of 2)

The first update said she had pneumonia. The second that she was in isolation on a COVID-19 floor. She’d been tested, of course, but her results wouldn’t be available for 48 hours. Very few staff worked the unit to minimize transmission. She’d have to test negative twice to be moved elsewhere.

At first, updates were mostly positive. She wanted to go home, which was a good sign. There was even talk about sending her home. But then we received word that she’d tested positive for COVID-19. In just a few hours, her oxygen levels began to drop, the pneumonia built in her lungs. She, as the medical professionals say, had taken a turn for the worse.

Waking can be hard because you remember. You remember someone you love is hurting, can’t quite catch her breath, and she’s alone in a hospital room. That’s the cruelty of COVID-19, the separation. As humans, we need connection, but COVID-19 has severed that cord ruthlessly.

I woke this morning and headed downstairs. It was too early to call for updates. But at about 7:30 a.m. as I made a chicken salad sandwich, my phone rang.

Did I know before I knew? Before I heard my father weeping? Before the words “she passed sometime during the night?”

Everything unravels in that moment. Everything you’ve held close, the breath and tears, let loose.

Will there be a funeral? Will we be able to hug? Are we carrying this grief alone, too, only to cut it open when we see one another again? If we are able to see one another again? Will a hug even mean the same?

That’s another thing COVID does — it makes you question a gesture once meant for comfort, because now anything might kill you.

It’s easy to hear statistics on the news — a number isn’t a person, but when one number becomes a person you love, you’re angry and scared shitless.

If this faceless killer can find my grandmother, homebound, in rural Kentucky, it can find us all.

We’re all more than a number, let’s not forget. Her name was June. She was a mother, grandmother, sister, aunt. She loved us all, and we loved her.

Jamey Temple is June Hill’s granddaughter and an English professor at University of the Cumberlands. This piece was published in The Courier Journal, 4/5/2020.

Our Brother: Herby Cheser

Story aboutHerby Cheser

Our brother lost his life to Covid-19 at the age of 68 on January 26, 2021. It broke our hearts to send him into the hospital by himself. We didn’t know that cold Sunday afternoon in January when we sent him in that it would be the last time we would see him alive. That was the hardest thing we did. I would call and talk with him on the phone. He would say they don’t know what’s going on. On Wednesday he took pneumonia during the night and they took him to the ICU, put him on a ventilator, and that was the end of his quality of life. He laid in ICU with our only updates from phone calls to the nurses who were too busy to talk to us. Call back, they would say, and, when you did, they sent you word by anyone answering the phones in the ICU.

We were called around 5:30am on January 26th to come to the hospital. He had gotten worse. By 10:43am they took him off the ventilator and he passed a few minutes later. We didn’t get to say goodbye and he never knew we were there. Oh how hard this was. He was our baby brother and we are a very close family. We will never get over this. We are so grateful for the flag on the Capitol grounds in remembrance of him. God bless his sweet heart.

A Life Well Lived

Story aboutNoel Biggs

Noel Biggs and his older twin brother, Frederick, were born on Christmas Day in Henderson, Kentucky. Noel was an inquisitive child who liked to take things apart to see how they worked, including his mother’s mantel clock and the engine of his father’s 1930 Buick; however, they both worked better after he put them back together. He was ambidextrous, able to work and write with both hands. Noel excelled at math and history. He had a life-long love of learning and would read as many books and manuals as he could on a subject, teaching himself many skills, including wiring of electrical circuits, basic plumbing and carpentry. He never met an engine he could not repair or a structure he could not build. Growing up by the Green River, he and his friends learned to swim, dive and pilot fishing boats, and his father’s ferry boat at a young age.

Following Pearl Harbor and days prior to his 18th birthday, Noel enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Noel was trained as a “frogman” and was a member of the Navy’s Underwater Demolitions Team. He saw action in Europe, Africa and the Philippine Islands, serving aboard the USS John Hopkins, USS Eric V. Hauser, USS Brontes, and the USS Ernest G. Small. While serving in the South Pacific, he was part of the team sent to rescue a downed fighter pilot taken captive by an island’s native cannibals. When his ship arrived off the coast of Naples in 1943, too many were moored in the harbor, so Noel’s ship dropped anchor just outside. Ships burned smoke pots to obscure their position. Despite their attempts at camouflage, the German Luftwaffe found their target and Noel was injured by flying shrapnel. The hospital in Naples where he was taken for treatment was also hit, losing the roof and a portion of a wall of the wing Noel was admitted to. Noel and other patients watched the bombers continue through the city until staff came to remove them from the rubble. His awards include the Philippine Liberation Ribbon, Victory Medal and Good Conduct Medal.

After the war, Noel worked a variety of jobs, including the construction of power lines through Central and Eastern Kentucky. He graduated first in his class from Hobart Welding School in Ohio, able to use any type of land or underwater welder. He worked at Alcoa Aluminum Warwick Works in Indiana for over 25 years as a Master Mechanic, Welder and teacher of Apprenticeship classes. After retiring, he moved to Frankfort. In his 80’s he came out of retirement to work part-time at Kroger West as a bagger, where customers knew Noel by his smile and kind demeanor.

In 1950, Noel and Frederick had blind dates with two sisters. Noel came to escort Dorothy and Frederick to escort Irene. By the end of the evening, neither sister liked Frederick, but Noel had taken a shine to Irene. Noel continued to visit “the family” until he got Irene to go on a date. His kind and easygoing personality and sense of humor won Irene over and they married in 1953. Years later, when he was teaching their daughter to read, he said “if you can read, books can talk to you – they can teach you things and take you to wild and wonderful places.” Noel also taught her to sing her ABCs, which got her in trouble when she sang them for Ms. White on her first day of first grade. When she told her dad “teacher says you don’t sing your ABCs” he laughingly replied, “Daughter, that’ s probably because your teacher can’t sing.”

Noel was baptized at an early age. He was active in the Masonic Lodge in Henderson and Morganfield and served as Grand Master. A member of First Baptist Church of Frankfort (on St. Clair), he was known as “The Candy Man”, greeting people with one of his many ornate baskets filled with peppermints, spearmint and butterscotch.

Noel loved God, his family, his country, bluegrass music and bagpipes. He is greatly missed by his friends, family and his daughter who lost her “gentle giant”. Noel Biggs, age 95, now walks with the angels.

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