Grief in a pandemic: Holding a dying mother’s hand with a latex glove

KIRKLAND, Wash. (Reuters) – 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.

Doug Briggs poses for a portrait with an outdated image of his mom, Barbara Dreyfus, who was a resident at Life Care Middle of Kirkland, contracted coronavirus illness (COVID-19) and later died in a hospital, close to a creek she loved exterior of her outdated dwelling in Kirkland, Washington, U.S., March 16, 2020. REUTERS/David Ryder

Briggs took his telephone, 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’m sorry I’m not there with you. I hope the medication they’re providing you with is making you extra snug,” stated Meri Dreyfuss, one in all 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 might 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 practically 25,000 worldwide. She was amongst three dozen deaths linked to the Life Care nursing dwelling in Kirkland, Washington, the location of one of many first and deadliest U.S. outbreaks. (For interactive graphics monitoring coronavirus in america and worldwide, click on and )

Dreyfuss’s ultimate hours illustrate the heartrending decisions now dealing with households who’re pressured to strike a steadiness between staying secure and comforting their sick or dying family members. Some have been reduce off from all contact with mother and father or spouses who die in isolation, whereas others have strained to supply consolation or to say their ultimate goodbyes via home windows or over the telephone.

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 experiences and pissed off by the combined messages and gradual 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 the most effective it might to one of many worst crises ever to hit an eldercare facility, with many staffers stretched to the brink as others have been sidelined with signs of the virus. As the primary U.S. web site 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 baby of the 1960’s, Dreyfuss lived a life characterised by artwork and activism. After marrying her highschool sweetheart and giving beginning to their son, she pursued a level in ladies’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. “At this time 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 Middle in Could 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 continual obstructive pulmonary illness required her to have a continuing circulate 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’m not feeling too good.”

Nonetheless, Dreyfuss talked about an upcoming go to together with her sisters – the films she wished to see, the eating places she wished to attempt. The mom and son then had solely a imprecise 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 common, her respiration was extra strained.

On the time, employees on the nursing dwelling believed they have been dealing with a flu outbreak and have 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 have been going to X-ray her lungs for fluid. Briggs, 54, nonetheless noticed no crimson flags, and continued to debate weekend plans together with his mom.

“I hope we are able to 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 acquired a name from the nursing dwelling. His mom was experiencing respiratory failure. She was on her technique to the hospital. Doug rushed to close by EvergreenHealth Medical Middle. 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 known as by chance, however now she realized her sister was in ache. “It haunts me that I didn’t decide up the telephone,” she stated.

Briggs spent near 10 hours the following 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 approach out the door, a physician took him apart to say they have been testing her for the coronavirus. He remembered the issue reconciling the outbreak happening on tv – distant, in China – with what was taking place in his mom’s hospital room.

Within the Bay Space, Meri and Hillary Dreyfuss have 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 approach we have been going to get on a airplane at that time, as a result of we couldn’t see her,” stated the center sister, Hillary. “And now, it appeared that we shouldn’t be seeing Doug, both.”

They canceled their flights. On Saturday, Feb. 29, Briggs discovered his mom’s situation was deteriorating. Robust selections loomed. Briggs and his aunts determined to prioritize making her snug over protecting her alive. Medical doctors gave her morphine to loosen up the heaviness in her lungs.

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She died the following day. 

Having emerged from a two-week quarantine, Briggs will quickly retrieve his mom’s cremated stays. The household has been fighting tips on how to memorialize her life in such chaotic instances.

“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’s nearly as if her loss of life has grow to be a tiny footnote in what’s happening.”

Reporting by Deborah Bloom and Nathan Layne; Modifying by Paul Thomasch and Brian Thevenot

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