Kentucky Stories of Loss

Too soon

Story AboutCorku C.

Corky was the first person I knew who died of Covid. He was a friend that everyone loved. He died the first week I heard about the virus. He was a healthy middle-aged man who was working full time for a local contractor. My husband worked with him for years before retirement.

We heard he was in the hospital with the dreaded disease and eight days later he was in the obituaries, deceased. Terrible loss for everyone in the community. I have many more friends who have died since this first death but his death was a wake-up call for this virus.

What a Good Man

Story AboutRoy Gore

I lost my father, Roy L. Gore on August 11, 2020. He was 92 years young!!! He was a strong, loving man who worked hard to give us what we needed and wanted as children .

Although he had no college education, he made sure we knew we were college bound!!! He was a loving husband to my Mom, who preceded him in death by 5 months.

Oh, I loved him so. I still do, very much. He taught me everything thing I know about having a strong work ethic, and, about saving and investing. He was the father figure in my son's life. He was loved by all of us. Rest in peace and power Daddy. We will meet again.

Should've Been at My Wedding

Story AboutNorma Goben

Grandma, you should've been sitting in the front row while I walked down the aisle, but instead, there was an empty seat in your honor. You should've been dancing, laughing, and smiling with our family, but instead, you died alone in the hospital. You should've been in all my wedding pictures, but instead, your picture was on our memorial table.

Covid took a lot of things from me, but none of them compared to losing you. My grandma was the sweetest, wittiest, and funniest person I've ever known. She's also the only person I knew who loved Taco Bell's Mexican Pizza. She never failed to make me laugh and let me know how much she loved me.

I miss you and love you lots, Grandma

Everyone Loved Him

Story AboutSteven Sprague

He was my beautiful sacrificial husband, a beautiful soul, and love of my life. Everyone loved him.

He enjoyed Star Wars, fantasy fiction, D&D, and we made our home our sanctuary. Steve loved Jesus and had an incredible devotion to Him and the Blessed Mother. We prayed together, went on walks, frequented the zoo (his favorite was the female Polar Bear), loved adventures, and deeply loved each other.

I miss his soft kisses, his comforting hugs, unconditional love, calling him my "Handsome Cabana Boy" every morning when he brought me coffee in bed, his sweet voice singing in Church, and how he adored me.

I miss everything about him. I was very blessed.

My Baby Sister

Story AboutAmanda Barnes

My baby sister Amanda was the most loving and kind person. She never met a stranger. She rescued 19 birds, giving them the best home.

She loved life, family, and her boyfriend of 19 years. She will be greatly missed. Gone way too soon. 34 years was not enough.

"I Need Help"

Story AboutKentucky's Children

Before the onset of the pandemic, Kentucky ranked #5 in the nation in bereaved children, meaning that 1 on 10 Kentucky students would lose a parent or sibling by age 18. The latest Covid modeling estimates a 20% increase for parental bereavement for all children, with children of color 30% more likely to have a loss. The journal Pediatrics states that for every four Covid-19 deaths in the US, one child will lose a parent or primary caregiver.

But what does this mean for us in the Commonwealth? Based on the most recent data on Covid-deaths in Kentucky, approximately 551 children in Jefferson County, and 3550 children across the state, have lost a parent or primary caregiver to Covid.

Losing a parent causes significant developmental disruption for children and teens. Their understanding of a safe world is shattered. They can experience high levels of anxiety. They are often suddenly consumed by fear for the safety of their surviving parent and caregivers, because they now know that important people in their world can disappear. These children may follow their caregivers from room to room, check their breathing during the night to make sure they are still alive, or ask them repeatedly who will take care of them if the caregiver dies as well.

Covid-19 exacerbated all of these losses and introduced new ones. Covid-related death losses are woven into the already dire picture of addiction, poor health outcomes, and kinship care in the Commonwealth. Covid infection is more likely to cause death in minority populations, those with comorbidities, and those of advanced age. Covid and the attendant isolation also increased addiction numbers; overdose deaths increased more than 50% in Kentucky after the start of the pandemic.

More addicted parents means that more of our children are in kinship care (Kentucky ranks #1 in kinship care). Thousands of our children are being raised by grandparents and even great grandparents, two populations more likely to experience the most dire outcomes of a Covid infection. The children in these situations are scared and anxious. They have already lost someone due to addiction. Then they hear the grim news of Covid deaths and know that their caregivers are at risk every day.

How do these grieving children function then, both as they try to process a death loss and constantly fear more loss? The answer is not well. The American Academy of Pediatrics declared a children’s mental health crisis at the end of 2021. Students are isolated or even bullied for being bereaved. They struggle to concentrate as their brains are trying to process something huge and permanent. A middle student said, when asked what she wished her teacher understood about her grief: “I don’t always feel myself, and a lot of the time I really need a break because my head is thinking about things that aren’t easy for me. When I start fidgeting, bouncing my leg, etc., that doesn’t mean that I’m not paying attention, that means I’m going through something and I need help.”

“I need help.” These children and teens do need help. They often know very well how their behaviors have changed and what fears they struggle with. But they do not always have adults they can turn to in their homes or in their communities for that help.

We must step up and be those supports and sources of help and stability for Kentucky’s many grieving children. Educate yourself on how to support a grieving young person. Talking about death can be difficult, but what most children need is simple presence and a listening ear. There are many free resources at our website, www.kcgcf.org. We can work together to help change the outcomes for our children whose lives have been touched by Covid.

Leila Salisbury is the Executive Director of The Kentucky Center for Grieving Children and Families. She can be reached at kychildrengrieve@gmail.com.

We Lost Many. Too Many.

Story AboutFamily of the Heart (1 of 3)

This story is by Susanne Howe, an Activity Coordinator at a Long Term Care Community in Louisville, KY.
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I used to think I knew a lot about dealing with loss. Having worked in senior facilities for over 20 years, I’d seen many deaths, both peaceful transitions and not so easy ones, up close and personal. Most were predicted and allowed time for family to gather bedside to say I their last “I love you's”. Those whose passings were unexpected were usually considered the “lucky” ones, as they slipped away quietly in their sleep. All were followed by some sort of memorial service or funeral where those who grieved were able to share memories and say their final goodbyes. There’s a sense of peace and acceptance that comes with the opportunity for closure. The covid that ravaged our residents, their families, our facility, and the community as a whole denied us those necessary mechanisms for expressing our grief.

Just the act of pulling these memories to the forefront of my consciousness is a painful yet cathartic exercise. In my mind, I see their smiling faces, feel their warm embraces, hear the old sing-along songs sung enthusiastically (if not particularly tunefully), and cherish those hearts that were filled with love and acceptance. They were kind souls who had survived much pain and loss in their lifetimes yet managed to greet each day with optimism and gratitude.

These treasured recollections of my "family of the heart" swirl around in my head mixed with the memory of hearing the fear in their voices or reading it in their faces as they fell ill. They were diagnosed with covid and sent out of the facility en mass to hospital ICU beds or dedicated covid units. Many of them died there among strangers, with no family to comfort them or hold their hands. Those who loved them were robbed of the opportunity to say those goodbyes or “I love you's” in-person.

Two of my “BFFs” were African-American women in their 80’s. We became close almost immediately – kindred spirits, I suppose. Neither of them cared that my skin color wasn’t dark like theirs, or that we came from different generations and frames of reference.

“G” wore her heart on her face, and her smile radiated love and joy. She had a tremendous spirit despite having lived a life filled with more than her share of suffering. She was always grateful for the smallest gestures, and never took kindness for granted. Her faith kept her proverbial glass always at least half full. She loved her family, bingo, music, a good piece of fried fish, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Compliments made her uncomfortable. I remember having to do a bit of arm twisting to get her to attend a group art therapy workshop because she didn’t think she could possibly create anything anyone would want to look at. The workshop leader had come up with an easy mixed media project, and when G saw her finished project hung on our dining room wall, she was so proud. She started looking forward to the classes and the walls of her room started to fill up with the fruits of her workshop labors. She thought of herself as ordinary and undeserving most of the time – I wish she could have seen herself through my eyes – she was very special, and I miss her so.

We Lost Many. Too Many.

Story AboutFamily of the Heart (2 of 3)

A mother of five, and a retired high school teacher, “V” was calm and virtually unflappable, no matter what life threw at her. She was warm and soft-spoken, yet firm and resolute in her convictions. We talked about almost everything…, religion, politics, racism, illness, loss, death, etc. I could always count on her to be direct and honest, pulling no punches. She endured illness and loss with grace, dignity, and strength of character. No matter what she might have been going through, she always had time to reach out to others. V loved Aretha Franklin, Nat King Cole, classical music, sports, and her four-generational family.

One of my most treasured memories is a night out with G, V, and two residents from our personal care unit. My colleague and I took them to the Brown Theatre to a concert by Black Violin. They were dressed in their Sunday best, complete with pearls and hats, and grinned ear to ear all night. We thought they’d tire by intermission, and we’d need to leave early but G and V didn’t want to miss a single second of the show, including the encore. They talked about it for weeks afterward.

I first became acquainted with “S” almost 10 years ago, when her mother was on our unit. S was special in every sense of the word. Although disabled, she was one of the most positive, giving, helpful people I’ve ever met. She loved sports, especially U of L men & women’s basketball, followed their biggest rivals, knew their schedules, and tracked the team records. March Madness was her favorite sports season. She was a whiz at remembering birthdays and the dates of life events, trivia about TV/movies, stars, presidents, first ladies, etc. What made her most exceptional was her confidence, optimism, and strong sense of self-worth without a trace of arrogance. She genuinely liked herself, gave her best efforts to whatever she did, and was never upset if things didn’t go her way. She’d simply say, “I’m sure I’ll get better with practice”, or “Maybe I’ll get to go the next time”. Because she was so comfortable in her own skin, she never felt the need to criticize or compare herself to others. I really admired her for that – when I feel myself going down that slippery slope, I tell myself “Be more like S.” She used to love to tell everyone that we were best friends from the first time we met because we had so much in common: we were both Libras, loved music, animals, people, being active, and our names were almost the same. Only seven years my senior, she was like an older sister to me.

These three women were there for me during times I experienced personal loss and illness, even more so than co-workers and some extended family members were. G and V had fought their own battles with cancer, and S had lost a brother to it. They were positive, supportive, and genuinely concerned about me when I was out for surgery and treatment, having my assistant text or call me several times a week to check on me and let me know they were praying for me. They bombarded me with love and encouragement.

We still mourn the loss of these and other souls in that awful week and the weeks that followed.

We Lost Many. Too Many.

Story AboutFamily of the Heart (3 of 3)

I will always remember “R”, the career IRS auditor, for her self-deprecating demeanor, quick wit, and her “flying feet.” She could have won a wheelchair race against anyone else on the unit without even using her hands. That tiny 93-year-old woman could flat out move. As a younger woman, she had square-danced, and her feet never forgot those steps. When a local fiddler and banjo player came to perform for us, I watched her from behind, fascinated by the fancy footwork of some long-ago choreography she was reliving with every beat of the music. If there hadn’t been a curled up, frayed tag dangling from the back of her wheelchair seat, the video I took of her “chair-dancing” would have made an incredible ad entitled “Finding your joy in long term care.”

“L” was a sweet gracious Southern lady who loved people and music. She had played piano and sax for years and was the reigning champion of our Name That Tune programs, often guessing songs after just 3-4 notes. However, the very first thing that pops into my head when I think of L is how much she loved cookies. I frequently offered beverages in activities or on a room-to-room snack cart. There was never an occasion when I offered a drink that L did not respond with “Got a cookie to go with this?” Whenever I offer residents beverages, I still hear L’s voice inquiring about the availability of cookies. The memory makes me smile.

A Navy veteran of the Korean War, “B” and his wife served as Baptist missionaries in Africa for 22 years, and Mexico for 21, retiring in the early 2000’s. His wife passed in 2015. B was witty, world-wise, kind, good-humored, and fiercely independent, only coming to long term care shortly before his 92nd birthday. Up to that time, he would be off on his scooter, zipping through the parking lot on his way to the drug store, barber shop, church, or simply out for a ride in the fresh air. B showed us all how to be young at heart at any age.

“A” had resided with us for several years. She taught in a one-room school in the rural mid-west as a young woman and was the master of trivia and word games. She had a vivid imagination and kept us all amused with her fanciful tales. Her sing-along song request was always “Mairsy Doats.”

There were two Frenchwomen who married American G.I.s after WWII, had come to live in Louisville, and were very active in the arts and education in the community. A talented pet portrait artist, a master bridge player, and a librarian/rare book collector/operatic were also among those we lost.

Yes, all these people were elderly, resided in a long-term care facility, and were part of an identified “at-risk” population, but they were living with their health concerns, had good care, quality of life by their own standards, and family and friends who loved them. They were not expendable. Their lives mattered.

Our facility was not alone, as there were thousands of long-term care communities across the nation that experienced similar losses. Some larger ones were hit even harder. There’s a wave of burnout in health care largely attributable to the constant stress of loss and unexpressed grief. It’s a like a tsunami rolling across the nation. The beds of those we lost have been filled by others multiple times since then, but the holes in our hearts will never be filled.

WhoWeLost: Kenneth Marlin

Story AboutKenneth Marlin

This story, by Gianna Cecil, is part of The WhoWeLost Project's collaboration with reporting students at Western Kentucky University.
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Kenneth (Kenny) Marlin was a retired Vietnam veteran and Courier-Journal worker who passed away in September 2020. He had survived a quadruple bypass surgery months prior. His death had a big impact on his family, who described a man who always put others before himself and was always there for his loved ones.

“He was my rock. He was my go-to person,” said Cindy Young, Marlin’s daughter. “Our words of encouragement were always waiting at the end of the phone line or the end of the street,” said Sarenity Young, Marlin’s granddaughter. Marlin was originally from Clarksville, TN, who went on to deliver newspapers for the Courier-Journal in Louisville after serving in the army. He retired from the paper after 30 years. When he wasn’t working, he was crafty, specifically with woodworking. “He was always working on something in his building, a new bench, doggy stairs, whatever. Always something,” said Sarenity. He also loved to help others in his spare time, like cutting yards or raking leaves. Sarenity said he always made sure that his neighbors had food to eat and tried to make someone smile at least once a day.

He also liked shopping, and Cindy remembers how sometimes when he lived just a couple houses down, he would go shopping while she was at work and would hang stuff on her door to find when she got home as a surprise. Cindy said the little things are what can mean the most. She said she and her dad would go to flea markets on the weekends and eat lunch, and how those always lead to good memories. She remembers how he took her on her first trip to Gatlinburg, and they laughed at Hillbilly Golf when a chipmunk kept stealing her ball. She said they laughed so hard about it, and her dad would say she'd tried to use the chipmunk as an excuse for why she lost the game.

Sarenity said he'd take her and her cousins to the zoo often to different events. “I remember going to Boo at the Zoo and always having the best time with him. He was the fun and loving grandpa who joked about everything and anything but always knew how to help in times of need,” said Sarenity. She said he could always get her to smile. “One time when I was a bit older working at Rally’s he came through the drive through and asked to order a Whopper, I of course thought, “Who is this crazy man at my drive through?”, not realizing it was him until he got to my window. I remember the laughs we shared and the love and support I felt from him coming to see me,” said Sarenity.

Both described Kenneth Marlin as a good man, who always was there when you needed him, & gave advice to help through the tough times. “He was a very good hard-working man. He taught us that family is the most important thing, not money or possessions,” said Cindy. “He was the description of a good southern man that never met a stranger and would take in those around him that needed more love and laughter in their lives as family,” said Sarenity. “When I was younger, he had gifted me a necklace that means the world to me then and now with a little inscription, “Wherever you go you will always be my granddaughter.” I cherish that necklace and the meaning behind it. No matter what I do in life or where I go, I will always have his love and support there for me. It has opened a lot of doors for me by realizing that I can do anything in life. It’s a message that I hope to pass down through the generations.”

Now that he's gone, they've turned to each other and friends for support. Cindy said that the hardest part was not being able to be there with him when he passed away. She couldn't be there with him in his last moments. “It’s been hard coping with his loss, but his life was so full, and his spirit was so big that I can still feel his words of advice and his love guiding me through. I loved him and I still love him," said Sarenity.

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