Grief in a Pandemic: Holding a Dying Mother’s Hand With a Latex Glove

KIRKLAND, Wash. — Doug Briggs placed on a surgical robe, blue gloves and a powered respirator with a hood. He headed into the hospital room to see his mom – to inform her goodbye.

Briggs took his cellphone, sealed in a Ziplock bag, into the hospital room and cued up his mom’s favourite songs. He put it subsequent to her ear and seen her wiggle, ever so barely, to the music.

“She knew I used to be there,” Briggs recalled, smiling.

Between songs by Barbara Streisand and the Beatles, Briggs conference-called his aunts to allow them to converse to their sister one final time. “I really like you, and I am sorry I am not there with you. I hope the medication they’re supplying you with is making you extra snug,” stated Meri Dreyfuss, certainly one of her sisters.

Someplace between “Stand by Me” and “Right here, There, and In every single place,” Barbara Dreyfuss handed away – her hand in her son’s, clad in latex. It could be two days earlier than docs confirmed that she had succumbed to COVID-19, the illness brought on by the coronavirus.

Dreyfuss, 75, was the eighth U.S. affected person to die in a pandemic that has now killed greater than 1,200 nationally and almost 25,000 worldwide. She was amongst three dozen deaths linked to the Life Care nursing house in Kirkland, Washington, the location of one of many first and deadliest U.S. outbreaks. (For interactive graphics monitoring coronavirus in the US and worldwide, click on and )

Dreyfuss’s ultimate hours illustrate the heartrending decisions now going through households who’re pressured to strike a stability between staying secure and comforting their sick or dying family members. Some have been minimize off from all contact with dad and mom or spouses who die in isolation, whereas others have strained to offer consolation or to say their ultimate goodbyes via home windows or over the cellphone.

Simply three days earlier than his mom died, Briggs had been making weekend plans together with her. Now, in his grief, he discovered himself glued to information studies and annoyed by the combined messages and sluggish response from native, state and federal officers.

“You discover out all this stuff, of what they knew when,” Briggs stated.

Officers from Life Care Facilities of America have stated the power responded one of the best it might to one of many worst crises ever to hit an eldercare facility, with many staffers stretched to the brink as others had been sidelined with signs of the virus. As the primary U.S. website hit with a significant outbreak, the middle had few protocols for a response and little assist from the surface amid nationwide shortages of take a look at kits and different provides.



A flower little one of the 1960’s, Dreyfuss lived a life characterised by artwork and activism. After marrying her highschool sweetheart and giving start to their son, she pursued a level in girls’s research at Cal State Lengthy Seaside, the place she marched for ladies’s equality and abortion rights.

Livid over President Gerald Ford’s pardoning of former president Richard Nixon in 1974, Dreyfuss took to her typewriter and penned an indignant letter to Ford. “Right this moment is my son’s ninth birthday,” she wrote of a younger Briggs. “I don’t really feel like celebrating.”

By the point she arrived on the Life Care Heart in Might 2019, years of well being points had dimmed a few of that spark, her son stated. Fibromyalgia and plantar fasciitis restricted her to a walker or a wheelchair, and power obstructive pulmonary illness required her to have a continuing movement of oxygen.

When her son visited on Feb. 25, he introduced a grocery bag of her favorites, together with food plan A&W root beer. She awoke from a nap and smiled at him, however hinted at her discomfort.

“Hello Doug,” she stated. “I am not feeling too good.”

Nonetheless, Dreyfuss talked about an upcoming go to together with her sisters – the flicks she needed to see, the eating places she needed to strive. The mom and son then had solely a obscure consciousness of the lethal virus then ravaging China.

In hindsight, Briggs realized he had witnessed the primary indicators of her misery. His mom was utilizing extra oxygen than standard, her respiration was extra strained.

On the time, employees on the nursing house believed they had been dealing with a flu outbreak and had been unaware the coronavirus had began to take maintain, a spokesman has stated.



Two days later, Briggs dropped by to see his mother. She felt congested, and employees had been going to X-ray her lungs for fluid. Briggs, 54, nonetheless noticed no crimson flags, and continued to debate weekend plans along with his mom.

“I hope we will lastly watch that new Mr. Rogers film,” she instructed him, referring to the movie, A Stunning Day within the Neighborhood. 

Briggs hugged his mother earlier than she was wheeled to the imaging room and drove for a fast meal. Quickly after, he obtained a name from the nursing house. His mom was experiencing respiratory failure. She was on her technique to the hospital. Doug rushed to close by EvergreenHealth Medical Heart. By then, she was unresponsive.

On the time, there have been 59 U.S. circumstances of coronavirus, a quantity that has since soared to greater than 85,000.

After listening to of her sister’s sudden hospitalization, Meri Dreyfuss remembered an earlier voicemail from Barbara: her distant voice, groaning for 30 seconds. When she had first heard it, she assumed Dreyfuss had referred to as accidentally, however now she realized her sister was in ache. “It haunts me that I did not decide up the cellphone,” she stated.

Briggs spent near 10 hours the subsequent day in his mother’s hospital room. He wore a medical masks and anxiously watched her very important indicators – particularly the road monitoring her oxygen saturation.

On his means out the door, a health care provider took him apart to say they had been testing her for the coronavirus. He remembered the issue reconciling the outbreak happening on tv – distant, in China – with what was occurring in his mom’s hospital room.

Within the Bay Space, Meri and Hillary Dreyfuss had been packing their suitcases on Feb. 28 when Briggs telephoned. After the decision, they determined that visiting their sister would pose an excessive amount of hazard of an infection.

“I spotted there was no means we had been going to get on a airplane at that time, as a result of we could not see her,” stated the center sister, Hillary. “And now, it appeared that we should not be seeing Doug, both.”

They canceled their flights. On Saturday, Feb. 29, Briggs discovered his mom’s situation was deteriorating. Powerful choices loomed. Briggs and his aunts determined to prioritize making her snug over conserving her alive. Medical doctors gave her morphine to chill out the heaviness in her lungs.

She died the subsequent day. 

Having emerged from a two-week quarantine, Briggs will quickly retrieve his mom’s cremated stays. The household has been scuffling with how one can memorialize her life in such chaotic occasions.

“All of the issues that one would wish to occur within the regular mourning course of have been subsumed by this bigger disaster,” stated Hillary Dreyfuss. “It is virtually as if her dying has develop into a tiny footnote in what is going on on.”

(Reporting by Deborah Bloom and Nathan Layne; Enhancing by Paul Thomasch and Brian Thevenot)

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