Stories: Who We Have Lost

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.

John and Me

Story aboutJohn Haponik (1 of 2)

John died of Covid-19 on January 29, 2021.
Thirty-seven years is a long time, and yet not nearly enough. I thought I was looking for something to read when I went into the bookstore at the Paducah Mall. Instead, I found the love of my life.

I nearly lost him twice. The first time when he was working as a contract chemical engineer in Baton Rouge, LA, living out of a hotel room when he came down with a mystery illness. The ER in Louisiana was no help; they acted like they thought he was a pill seeker. He had a terrible headache, and when he was able to drive, he packed up his things and came home to me. Four months, five doctors, seven spinal taps and dozens of tests and we finally had the diagnosis of Cryptococcus Neoformans; Fungal Meningitis. He lost sight in one eye became deaf in one ear and had only partial hearing in the other, but he was still my John and we managed just fine, though with a bit more yelling. I stayed with him for weeks in the hospital, even sleeping in the bed with him. His doctor would peek around the door before coming in of a morning, “good morning, love-birds,” he would say. We were stronger together, and nothing could come between us.

That disease is 100% fatal without treatment and the only treatment at that time was a drug called Amphoterison B. If you watched House on tv, you will remember they called it “Amphi-terrible” because it is so hard on the body. Two weeks inpatient and six weeks outpatient IV treatment with Amphi-terrible and he was finally pronounced ‘cured’. Once his doctor cleared him to drive, the first thing he did was go fishing at Kentucky Lake, where he cast off his wedding ring. He had lost so much weight it just went flying off into the water. I bought him another on Ebay. This one is plain gold and has two sets of initials in it with the date “14-11-36” which we teased was our new anniversary. I’m wearing it now.

Well, two years after being cured of fungal meningitis, we had moved to Robinson IL where John worked at Marathon Petroleum. He fell ill again. I gave him a couple of aspirin and we went to a local doctor who turned out to be a terrible diagnostician. Two visits to this guy without any results and I finally gave up and took John to the ER where he is diagnosed with “heart failure, liver failure, kidney failure…” The aspirin probably saved his life, the ER doctor said. After John got stabilized at the small hospital they moved him by ambulance to a larger one in Terra Haute IN. A week in Terra Haute, and they send him to a much bigger hospital in Indianapolis for heart surgery. His surgeon, Dr. Hormuth, says that only maybe 2 of 10 heart surgeons would operate on a person as sick as John. Dr. Hormuth has a huge ego, but when you routinely and literally hold someone’s life in your hands, you can be justified thinking you are God’s gift. He plays in a jazz band after hours too, and you have to love that. I stayed with John in the Cardiac ICU till a grumpy night nurse told me to leave. After I left, John’s stats went a bit bonkers and he kept that nurse busy trying to make him comfortable. After a while she asked him if he wanted her to go find me. “No,” he said, “but maybe you’ll let her stay tomorrow.” She did.

These last 12 years here in Somerset have been pretty good, for the most part. Our kids, Stacy and Michael, have both grown up. Stacy always felt like more of a ‘northerner’ than a ‘southerner’ and now lives in Connecticut. Michael is still at home and has been a blessing to me these last few months since John died. They are both a wreck, missing their dad. Me too. It occurs to me that I have loved John for 37 years, and that is a long time, more than half my life. Stacy and Michael have loved him their entire lives. He was a great dad…. and an even better friend and husband.

My Husband, John Haponik

Story aboutJohn Haponik (2 of 2)

I caught Covid at work. Before I knew I had it, I had given it to my son, Michael and my husband, John. My positive test was on the Monday after Christmas. Michael and I recovered. By the following Monday, John was in London at St. Josephs Hospital. His doctors said he was there in plenty of time. He was on ‘room’ air for a week, then moved to a different floor where he could have ‘high’ air. They did the drug treatment and the antibodies and at first expected him to be home by Saturday. I wasn’t allowed to stay with him, of course, but had his phone and we texted back and forth.

This is all too hard to write. At the end of his second week, he was placed on a c-pap. His lungs had filled with sepsis and blood clots. They had to turn the pressure up enough to force the oxygen into his struggling lungs. He developed a pneumothorax- a hole in his lung- from the pressure. He said it felt like a panic attack and it seemed like the whole floor of nurses dashed in to take care of him. That was the day he texted our daughter Stacy, “It is mostly boring here, but sometimes very exciting.” After that he was placed on a ventilator. Before they sedated him, he wrote out, “Darlene, I love you. JPH” on a sheet of paper the nurse gave him. I had it framed so he can tell me he loves me every day.

You can only stay so long on a ventilator before it starts working against you. He couldn’t get a tracheotomy because of the tube coming out of his lung; he was too medically fragile for surgery. His doctor explained that no surgeon would agree to surgery if the patient would die on the table, as they were certain John would.
His last week in ICU they finally let Michael and me visit for a while. I realize what a blessing this was… most people did not get the chance to sit with their loved ones since Covid. I thank the doctors and nurses at St. Joseph for that privilege. John was heavily sedated and didn’t know we were there. I wanted to climb in bed with him and hold him, but had to settle for hugging him around all his tubes. A priest gave him last rites for the Catholic Church on our 37th wedding anniversary. I refused to take him off the ventilator on that day, but came back to the hospital on the next. His nurse told me that all the nurses who had taken care of him were crying and upset that they hadn’t been able to save him. I said, “he must have been a good patient” … and she said, “That’s not it. We are all upset because he loves you so much and was so worried about you.”

I left the room while they disconnected the tubes and equipment. When I came back, I held his hand hugged him while he took his last breaths. He just stopped breathing. No struggle. Just peaceful rest. His heart kept beating, his pacemaker doing its duty even after his lungs could not. His nurse used a magnet to quiet the device… and my John was gone.

My Mother, My Angel

Story aboutWilma Kelley

My mom passed away on November 25th, 2020 due to COVID-19. She left me and my dad and her grandkids and great grandkids suddenly. She was my best friend and the best mother anybody could ask for. And I thank God every day for the life lessons she taught me as a child. Now she is my guardian angel and watches over me and my dad, her husband of 58 years. They had the kind of love that every little girl dreams of. Mom took care of daddy and now she has placed him in my hands. I only hope I can make her proud. Mom passed with a lot of complications from COVID-19 and because of that, nobody was allowed to see her. That’s what really hurts is the fact that she died alone and scared. We didn’t get to have the funeral or memorial service the way she would have liked…(up to 25 people). She knew she was loved dearly by everyone that had any contact with her. And my dad and myself miss her so bad. I love you Momma!

My husband, Earl, died during the COVID19 PANDEMIC on June 4, 2020 at the hospital. (he did not have the covid virus) We got the call to come to the hospital but the nurse met us at the door and told us he was gone. The days that followed where sad and long. So much to do and no one to come home to. The following is a post our son,Micah, posted on fb when he returned to our home the morning his Papa passed.: Micah Wyatt June 5, 2020 at 4:22 PM · Shared with Public – I have wrestled with the idea of sharing this publicly cause my father was a private man, and the current viral context makes a difficult situation even more problematic- and the difficulties only increase as numbers grow. Yet, I didn’t want to deprive anyone of the opportunity to honor my father and grieve alongside those who also loved him. So, it is with a heavy heart made strong by the courage and strength my father modeled that I must inform the world my Donald Earl, known as, “Whitecloud” to those who knew him in youth due to his bright blonde hair, went to sleep last night and became one with the thunder. Dad had suffered in ways few could ever imagined because he never burdened others with his problems of body and spirit. So, while it is sad he is no longer here there is also comfort, cause he is released from the pains of his flesh. My father was my first friend and always my best. Funny, kind, and generous to a flaw, he was also brave, powerful, and no one to trifle with or disrespect. The calm and quite clouds would part, shot guns would rise, and the danger or disrespect would be dealt with. Yet, he was never unreasonable or unfair with his anger the entire time I knew him. Further, dad could flat kick your ass at Rook. Even after everyone at the table had six packs each he could still recall exactly what card had played and who played it. My father was a warrior, both literally and metaphorically. He served our country during the Vietnam era. He was an artillery gunner, and a damn good one. His gunnery squad were taken to West Point Military Academy to train the artillery infantry there. Dad supposedly never saw action, but I also know he had a top secret clearance at one point so what he really did remains an unknown. He shared what he was comfortable with, and the rest I never asked about. There is no doubt this world has had its level of kindness and generosity reduced today, but with an indomitable will and keen mind I will strive to double my efforts to help that level to not fall as far as it might so as to honor my father’s legacy. In his last years papa spent much of his time at his desk watching multitudes of birds come to the feeder hanging from the window before which he was seated. As I had done with grandma and grandpa Wyatt as a child, dad would quietly identify and witness various feathered friends as they ate, sang, and scuffled amongst each other. When I arrived home from the hospital after seeing my father off on one of his final journeys it was about 5:45am. As I got out of the car songs from hundreds of birds filled the air, and I wondered with a transcendent smile, “How many of these did papa feed?” Every morning the numerous birds on our mountain greet the sun with their voices. I do not know the winged choirs were for my father, but I also do not know they were not. love Micah
It will soon be a year since we lost him. My heart is still broken, the tears still fall. The hill will never be same without him. Love Always and Forever, Rosemary

My Dad, my hero

Story aboutJoseph Vize

My Dad, who loved to golf, loved KY basketball, often went deer “hunting” but never took his gun, retired from Ford Motor Company, the best father, husband and Grandfather anyone could ask for. You need something? Take his or he would get it. You need help with something? Give him and time and you paid with a hot breakfast. He was the epitome of what a Dad truly was. When I moved to Texas, with two children, to meet my husband for his job change, he drove the 25 hours with me, moved me in and would only fly back to KY when my husband was there & he knew we were safe and sound. Hardest worker yet you could often find him “napping” while watching Gunsmoke Most days. “Perks of retirement” he would say.

Covid took him from us. He first was sick November 24, 2020. Only gastrointestinal issues, we suspected Covid but he “wasn’t that sick”. Went to the ER, sent home with Immodium. 4 days later, I had to call 911 as his O2 was below 70. Straight to Jewish hospital, he tried and fought for a week to stay off the vent. He was so scared and alone, I will never be able to thank the nurses who were there we we couldn’t be.

December 10, he was placed on the vent. It never helped. He went downhill fast and the early morning of December 18, his deceased mothers 95 birthday, we watched via a zoom call as his machines were turned off, the vent stopped and the moment he took his last breath. Thank God for the nurse who held his hand. My nieces were allowed to be there as they both are nurses in Louisville. They gently spoke to him as he transitioned to heaven. No more pain, struggle or Earthly sorrow. It has been 147 days. I miss him so much but take comfort in knowing I will see him again.

Dad, we can never tell you how much you are loved and missed. Until we meet again!

Nana/Banana a/k/a Judy Farris Zimmerman

Story aboutJudy Zimmerman

My wife Judy is missed dearly by everyone that ever met her. Her greatest love was for her God, her Family and her Country. She lived her life with a smile and lots of humor. She could make anyone smile, especially a child. I never saw a child that she could not comfort and put at ease. Her favorite thing to share with others was her God and she always told everyone that there were 7 children who called her mom, that she only gave birth to one, and she forgot which one that was. Covid-19 claimed her life on September 30, 2020. She was one of a kind and is missed by all who knew her. May you rest in the arms of Jesus.

My daddy the fighter

Story aboutLawrence Hunt

My daddy has always been a junk dealer. He loved going places, buying and selling just about anything. He liked talking to people — I think he knew everyone in the county and several counties around us. He loved his family and he loved telling everyone about all his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. About 3 years ago he had to have both of his legs amputated but we never let him give up. He fought hard and he bounced back, he knew he couldn’t do the things he use to do but he adjusted and figured out things he could do. Then the pandemic hit and it made it harder for him because people couldn’t come around him because they were afraid they would make him sick but he still had the immediate family around encouraging him that it would maybe end soon. But somehow Covid made it to my dad’s house and on Thanksgiving day in 2020 my dad was taken to the hospital and tested positive for Covid. I was so scared because I was thinking that someone with his health problems he would not be coming back. But to my surprise he was back home in about three days. It was like there was nothing wrong with him. So when they started talking about the vaccine he couldn’t wait to get it; he said he would be first in line but that didn’t happen because on Feb. 3rd 2021 my dad the fighter died from complications of COVID-19.

Share Your Story