Kentucky Stories of Loss

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.
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.

Missed You Christmas Eve

Story AboutHarry Ananian

My husband, Harry, was one of the early ones taken by COVID on April 13, 2020, while we were just under lockdown. This is the second Christmas without him. I did feel him in the pew last night next to me. He LOVED this time of year with the promise of a renewed life, watching his grandsons revel and his family around him.

We are all still around you Harry. Just miss you being here with us, knowing that you would have had a better chance of being here if you had gotten COVID later in the pandemic. So sad.

Our Time Together

Story AboutEugene Logsdon

My husband, Eugene and I did everything together. We went to church, grocery, hunting and boating together. The love of my life. The hard thing was not being with him when Covid came. My kids and I were not allowed. It is so hard mentally. He was loved deeply and should never have been alone to pass. He loved everyone and was so helpful to everyone he came in contact with. So so sad.

Like It Just Happened Yesterday

Story AboutLaVern Terry

The kitchen light tends to blink when we all gather for the holidays. I’m not one for superstition, but my sister always points it out and says it’s mom just dropping by to visit and say howdy. I think it gives us comfort knowing she’s in a better place and visiting us before we take on her role of cooking the turkey with all the fixin’s. We especially miss her lumpy mashed potatoes, her broccoli casserole filled with commodity cheese, and the one dish that was mentioned the most this year, her stuffing. It wasn’t anything special and came from a Stove-Top box or whatever Save-A-Lot sold. Maybe it was the consistency, with its crusty top and soft, gooey inside or maybe it’s just memories that were decades in the making.

Since I was a kid, Mom always made two stuffings for both sides of the turkey. The stuffing on the tail end was mixed with celery and onions while around the front had none of that. The front side stuffing was mainly for eight-year-old me as I didn’t care for onions and celery. I also thought that eating stuffing out of an animal’s butt was gross. Little did I know “my stuffing” would become the running joke for the next twenty-five years as mom would tell family members about it every year like it just happened yesterday. Her other reminder was jabbing at “my stuffing” and saying “here’s my baby’s” in a low patronizing voice. Well, she’s wasn’t wrong.

As we all inevitably got older and took our shots at holiday turkeys and dishes, we always surprised Mom with our cooking and prepping approaches. One example that comes to mind is when my partner and I were at my parents cooking a turkey for Friendsgiving celebration. Now, you got to understand that my folks are more old-fashioned and until she picked up a roaster, she simply stuffed the bird, threw it in a bag, and put it in the oven. Here we were, stuffing our brined turkey with vegetables and fruits followed by a butter and herb rub. Mom was just perplexed by our approach, exclaiming, “well, that’s the first time I’ve seen that.” She also wanted to smell the herb mix we concocted and the smell liked to have knocked her backwards. Again, she wasn’t used to our fancy approach to cooking a turkey.

After we visit her at our local cemetery and check on her Christmas decorations that adorn her grave, I hope to see the kitchen lights blink to let us know she’s visiting us back. We miss her every day and especially around the holidays but we also cherish those memories and talk about them like they just happened yesterday.

Christmas Flowers

Story AboutBecky Breece-Straley

This is our first Christmas without Aunt Becky. She died on January 22, 2021 due to complications from COVID. Becky loved Christmas. If I close my eyes, I can still see her sitting at the piano playing the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as we nieces and nephews crowded around her and sang along. That song has to be the world’s longest Christmas carol, but every year she obliged us even though Christmastime was her busy season.

Aunt Becky owned a flower shop in a tiny 4-stop-light-town, but she was a modern day florist, who could accommodate any request. She once even created an intricate flower hair accessory for a customer, just like the one Cher had worn on The Sonny & Cher Show. She was truly an artist who created dazzling fresh flower arrangements that everyone loved.

Each December, her flower shop held buckets of fragrant pine boughs, long stemmed-red roses, and peppermint striped carnations to name a few. The demand was so great that she could barely keep up with the orders. So when I became a teenager, she enlisted me to be her assistant.

I was helping Aunt Becky one snowy afternoon when the greenhouse delivery truck made its stop. As the driver opened the giant door at the back of the truck, we were enveloped by the scent of thousands of flowers hitting our noses all at once. The mingling fragrances of gardenias, roses, lilies, carnations and pine branches created a heavenly scent. I was so happy when my aunt let me climb into the cool, damp truck with her while she made her selections. I had never seen so many flowers in all my life. There were hundreds and hundreds of metal buckets of colorful fresh flowers packed tightly from ceiling to floor. I will never forget it.

People still talk about my Aunt Becky’s festive Christmas arrangements, and I think that’s because she worked meticulously on each one, making it just right. To me, it was always a bit sad that those beautiful fresh flowers would only last a couple of weeks. But all these years later, I know that the feeling lives on long after the flowers fade. This year I will be sure to buy fresh flowers for my dinner table, and as I breathe in the scent of Christmas, I will think of her.

Blessing at Memorial Ceremony, 11/14/21

Story AboutMore than 10,200 Kentuckians

Dedication of Space:
Covid-19 Memorial—KY State Capitol, November 14, 2021
Our fellow Americans in Indiana and Illinois would like to claim President Abraham Lincoln for their very own. We in the Bluegrass State know better. He was born here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and he understood the depths of death and loss– borne of disease and division as so many of us Kentuckians do. So, it seems “fitting and proper” to borrow from his words at Gettysburg, dedicating a national cemetery, to today’s purpose of dedicating a space to those throughout our state who have died of this terrible disease, that has tragically become not only a health crisis but a political one as well. The powerful words he uttered in 1865 still speak to us now.

…In a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.

The space dedicated to those who have perished from this pandemic makes no distinction between the political party, race, religion, sexuality, gender, economic class or vaccination status of COVID-19’s victims. It is a space for all Kentuckians who died from the disease. The sacred task before us, is to heed the cry of brothers and sisters blood calling to us from the ground to be united in something other than death. The number of 10,000 means precious little unless 10,000 lives stopped short, dreams cut of, hopes unrealized compels us to get past our differences and unite for the common good of our state, our nation and our world. If we learn nothing from this pandemic than we have failed to understand Lincoln’s charge at Gettysburg, failed to honor the memory of our departed and failed to appreciate the blessing of being fortunate enough to survive. If 10,000 deaths do nothing to change the choices we make, the priorities we set, the initiatives we invest in, then shamefully, we will indeed stand guilty of the terrible sin of letting our beloved die in vain. Rather, let us resolve as our slain President, our fallen Captain, our great leader would have us do: to take on the unfinished work, advance the great task, and dedicate ourselves to the sacred cause of building a state, a nation and a world, where no one goes hungry, no one is homeless, everyone is educated, and health care is a human right.

As we dedicate this space today let us re-dedicate ourselves to the values, ideals and principals that unite us as Kentuckians, Americans, and human beings. May this be our blessing and let us say: Amen.

For Janet Loy, no one was truly a stranger

Story AboutJanet Loy (1 of 2)

This story, by Madison Carter, is part of The WhoWeLost Project’s collaboration with reporting students at Western Kentucky University.
Janet Loy was the type of woman to give a helping hand to anyone who needed it. Kim Russell, Loy’s daughter, said one of her fondest memories of her mom was a school trip they went on together where she learned just how selfless her mom was. This trip was important for both of them because it was the first time Loy was able to get off work to go on a trip with her daughter.

“I was like ‘oh my gosh,’ for the first time my mom gets to go to something, and she was so good at it,” said Russell. “They had a contest where the chaperones and teachers chewed bubble gum, and whoever could blow the biggest bubble won. I remember her winning.”

Russell said that shortly after that when the school group was hiking, they came across a bridge that seemed unsafe for them to cross. Russell said her mom saved the day. “I remember my mom taking the lead in helping every child over that bridge, and I was so proud that she was my mom,” said Russell.

In February of 2021, Loy passed away due to COVID-19. It is unknown how she contracted the virus, but after days of fighting and then being put on a ventilator her daughter made the decision to take her off.

Russell said the decision was extremely hard, but she knew her mom and what she would want and decided that it was the right thing to do. Russell said that she felt comfort knowing that her mom was now with God.

Russell said that her mom was always happy.“She did have a little bit of a temper, but it took a whole lot to make her mad,” said Russell. Her mom was a caregiver, a trait which her mom passed down to her and other members of the family.

“She never met a stranger,” said Russell. “One of the lessons I learned from her was that it doesn’t matter if you’re high-class, middle-class, low-class. Everyone has a heart and a soul, and it’s not for us to judge.”

Russell said that her mom taught her that you never knew what people were going through, and the easiest thing is to be nice to everyone you meet. Her mom was a very hard worker, a single mom who always worked to provide for her and her brother.

“She retired from Rainbow Baking company,” said Russell. “She was there for 20 some years, and then she retired and started cleaning houses. She retired from that when my grandma got sick, and then she was her full-time caregiver until she passed.”

Russell said that her mom also loved to dance. Russell said that her mom once went to “The Monarchs” concert at the Louisville Zoo dressed up as one of the three musketeers with two of her friends. Russell said the group was dancing like a bunch of teenagers.

“It made me think, I wonder how she was like when she was younger, before all this life happened?” said Russell. “Then I started hearing stories, and every story I heard was always a good story. It was always a funny story.”

Russell said her mom was the kind of person that if you were feeling bad or down on yourself, she would always have something positive to say. Even in her last days her mom was positive and making jokes. Russell said that her mom had formed a close connection with the nurse taking care of her and that the nurse would report back on all the funny things her mom would say and do.

Russell said that the nurse would even spend time with Loy praying and that it was a blessing that she got the nurse she did. Russell keeps in contact with the nurse today.

Joyce Lowe, Loy’s first cousin and close friend, was another important person in her life. Lowe said that her and Loy were like best friends: they were always together and usually up to no good.

Janet Loy

Story AboutJanet Loy (2 of 2)

Lowe and Loy shared much through various phases of their lives and later in life became very close again. Lowe remembered a night from their childhood together when they were having a sleepover and watching a movie when they encouraged Janet to get up and dance for them like the actors on television.

“I was going ‘go Janet, go Janet!’ and all the other sisters were cracking up in the background,” said Lowe. “It was like once she started something and you encouraged her to do something bad like that, she would go for it.”

Lowe said that something she has struggled with since losing Lowe was the feeling of not being able to say goodbye. Lowe was in the hospital with congestive heart failure when they were able to have Loy’s celebration of life memorial.

“It’s like I never told her goodbye,” Lowe said. She most remembers Loy for her willingness to give people whatever they needed. “I think she stayed broke half the time because anybody that wanted anything she would give a handout to and didn’t require for it to be paid back,” Lowe said. Loy was a source of happiness and encouragement in her life, especially after losing her husband.

“She taught me that if you’re gonna do something and you want it bad enough, no matter what anybody says, do it and don’t put it off,” Lowe said. “After my husband died, I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything and she encouraged me and always brought me laughter and joy.”

Lowe said that the loss of her best friend is fresh every day. “It’s like part of me is gone,” Lowe said. “I get to the phone getting ready to call her, and I realize there’s nobody there to answer.”

Lowe said that Loy was a great Christian and that she knows Loy is happier in heaven with all her other loved ones who have passed. It is still hard for Lowe to not have Loy here with her, but she finds comfort knowing she is with God. Lowe said another important thing to know about Loy was how much she loved her grandkids. “They were her morning, noon and night,” Lowe said.

Chelsea Russell, Loy’s granddaughter-in-law, can attest to Loy’s love for her grandkids. Chelsea Russell started dating Corey Russell when she was fifteen, which meant that Loy, who lived with Corey and his mom [Kim Russell], was a grandmother figure to her as well.

Chelsea Russell said that Loy helped Kim Russell raise her son and that because he grew up without a father figure in his life, Loy had stepped up and played a significant role. “I can see now the respect for women she instilled into him because of the way he treats me and the way he raises our children to treat women,” Chelsea Russell said. “A lot of that came from her and the strong woman she was.”

Chelsea Russell said that even when Loy was in her upper sixties, she would still drive 45 minutes just to babysit the grandkids so Chelsea Russell could go to work. “Having her guidance and help and willingness to be a present woman in my boy’s life was something that meant so much to me,” Chelsea Russell said.

Chelsea Russell shared how she did not grow up with a very close family, so when she married her husband, it was a foreign feeling having people be so involved. Chelsea said that it took a lot of getting used to, but once she grew in motherhood and matured, she was so grateful for all the things that Loy taught her and did for her family.

Chelsea Russell said that it is hard not having Loy here anymore and that she knows things will not be the same without her. Chelsea Russell said that she is expecting her fourth child soon and that it is hard knowing Loy will not get to be there to meet and hold them.

Kim Russell said that even in death, her mom had hope and peace. Kim Russell said that the last time she talked to her mom was on the phone before she passed away. “She squeezed the nurse’s hand and said, ‘tell my daughter it’s gonna be okay.’” Kim Russell said. “I was like ‘yeah mom it’s okay, you’re gonna be fine,’ and she said, ‘no Kim, everything’s gonna be okay.’”

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