Kentucky Stories of Loss

Humor Always Had a Place in Our Day

Story AboutMichael Wiemers (2 of 2)

And so, I choose to celebrate our history together by remembering Mike’s acute sense of humor. With his impeccable timing, he was a master joke teller. He had this ability to convince family and friends to believe just about anything. And after he had his hook in you, he would follow with his famous, “nah, got ya.”

One day, during Mike’s career as a medical officer, he came home from work telling me he’d been assigned temporary duty in the Black Sea, and needed to travel to Istanbul to catch his military ship, to which I responded, “yeah right.” He tried everything to convince me, but with that far-fetched story, I wasn’t buying it. Sure enough 3 weeks later, he’s on a plane to Istanbul.

We still laughed about that moment every now and then which makes sense because during our many years together, humor always had a place in our day. It has been said that laughter is the key to a long happy life. We both understood this, sometimes even on the darkest days. We had fun in our daily lives, whether it be cooking a simple meal, or him jumping out to scare me as I walked down a dark hallway. Even after all the years, we had a solid mutual appreciation of one another.
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One of Covid’s cruelest consequences is how many victims of the virus, like Mike, died alone. I have organized a Yellow Heart Memorial at the Pavilion Recreation Center in Georgetown, Kentucky, which will begin this April. Each heart symbolizes someone lost to the pandemic, but instead of being by themselves, the hearts are gathered together, in solidarity, keeping company with each other and those of us who remain. Michael’s yellow heart will be on this wall.

Mike Wiemers was an amazing man with an undeniable love of life. He loved me, and children Bryan, and Lara, and we all loved him back.

"The Light "

Story AboutEd McDaniel

This time last year you were with me. This year is not the same. You are in heaven, that is a wonderful thing. I don’t care what people say — you are in my thoughts, my prayers and the biggest part of me, my heart. There are some days more than others that I feel like I have lost my way. All I have to do is look up at the light and you will guide my way.

I went most of my life without talking to my aunt only because we lived in different cities, but when she moved to Radcliff, Kentucky in 2004, I made sure to be around her on a regular basis. My mother always wanted me to get to know her sister, and this was my opportunity. We talked and laughed — on the phone, at the movies, and countless lunches and dinners with a huge side of laughter. She even met my friends, making them her friends with her unique sense of humor.

I was her “faaaaavorite niece,” but I reminded her that I was her “only niece.”

“That’s not the point!”

Several years ago, I was leaving her house in Radcliff, and a wayward deer appeared to be charging toward us but ran farther away. “Rudolph” was more afraid of us than anything, but we still bumped into each other trying to get back into the house. “I saved your life!” she said proudly.

Her so-called heroic effort made her feel good, that’s all that mattered.

Another time, I was visiting my aunt in the hospital, and she needed a blood transfusion. The nurse walked into her room and announced, “I have your B-positive ready.” I perked up and said, “Hey, that’s my blood type, too. So, it’s in our blood to ‘be positive,’ get it?”

“Get out!” she said, feigning disapproval of my clever pun. Actually, she thought it was funny that I stayed in her room, laughing at my own joke.

During the pandemic, we resorted to talking on the phone. When I did come to visit, it was only to knock on her door and drop off food supplies and face masks, including one designed with Michelle Obama’s images, which she loved. I would leave before she could open the door for social distancing purposes.

Several months later, there was one time I couldn’t reach her on the phone. Knowing that I would be worried, my cousin (her son) called to tell me that my aunt had been rushed to the hospital with Covid-19. Thank God, the hospital’s nurses allowed us to talk to her on Facetime. My aunt always had a sense of humor, even throughout her hospital stays with heart issues. This last time was not any different, and she joked with my cousins and me without missing a beat.

Even though the nurses warned us that she didn’t have long to live, my aunt’s personality was still as strong as ever. Maybe the nurses were wrong.

Unfortunately, they weren’t wrong, and I have missed my aunt every day since January 28, 2021. There are times when I look in the mirror and I’m reminded of her because of my dimples — a family trait.

I guess I’m meant to smile so that I can see them. I like to think that’s another reason why she always tried to make me laugh.

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.

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