My grandfather reads me a picture book. (Courtesy Maeve Hagerty)
My grandfather reads me a picture book.

Courtesy Maeve Hagerty

Last week, my grandfather passed away from COVID-19. This is my story.

May 28, 2020

“There’s always a time to say goodbye, and this is that time,” he said to us as we huddled around the phone on our kitchen table. He was leaving us, possibly forever, and yet it was the first peace that I had felt in weeks.

When my grandfather was diagnosed with COVID-19 in early May, my family was caught by surprise. What began as a short trip to the hospital for complications related to his walking resulted in a positive cautionary COVID-19 test and more than two weeks of hospital care, ending in his decision to be put on a ventilator from which he likely would not recover. I write this weeks later, only six days after my family, with the advice of his doctors, decided to take my grandfather off the ventilator. He passed away quietly in the night only minutes after. 

This wasn’t a forced decision, though; my grandfather had always known that he didn’t want to stretch out the anguish of his sickness, or the anguish that his family felt seeing him suffer. He knew it was time to say goodbye when he made his choice to go on the ventilator, and that he might never see us again.

My older sister and I pose with my grandparents. (Courtesy Maeve Hagerty)

Of course, it’s incredibly important to social distance and follow quarantine protocol, but I’m not writing this to lament a virus that I can’t control. I reached out to my friend on The Black & White because I want to tell the story of the man who used to read to me and sit through my squeaky viola concerts, and I want to share some of the sentiments that I believe he would like us to remember. It’s often hard to remember that the statistics on the news are real people, but they are, and one of them is my grandpa: the same man who was so well-read it was impossible to buy him a book with which he hadn’t already become familiar.

His love for reading grew hand-in-hand with his love for teaching at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Michigan, where he lived all his life and died just six days ago, May 22. In his time as a professor, my grandfather supported his local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and consistently advocated for labor rights. He taught me to love classical and traditional Irish music, and we would frequently talk about our love for both.

When my grandfather was diagnosed with COVID-19, he remained in the hospital for weeks. When he was sedated May 15 and put on a ventilator, my grandma sat in their apartment only miles from where he lay, not having seen his face since the day he left. Now, she grapples everyday with the fact that though her love for him will endure, she won’t ever see him again.

This virus has exposed a whole host of questions to which there seem to be no answers. How do you derive any comfort from the passing of a loved one when you can’t be the one to hold their hand as they go? How can you decide to pull the plug on their life support when you’re hundreds of miles away?

We can’t hold the hands of our loved ones, but we can tell them time and time again just how much they mean to us.

I don’t say this to bring you more sorrow in these already troubling times, but I do want to mention that, while we should provide as much support as possible to our medical professionals and those on the front-lines, it’s just as important to support those on the front-lines of our families. People like my mother, who sacrificed her self-owned business trying to monitor my grandfather’s care, have little to no support. Right now, the only thing we may be able to offer them is our love, and I’ve seen firsthand just how important that can be.

Every day that my grandpa was in hospital, his wife and two daughters called him to chat and manage his care. Before he chose to go on a ventilator, my grandpa talked on the phone with us everyday to satirically mourn the flavorless hospital food or tell me about his interpretation of Hamlet to help with my last-minute homework for AP Literature.

In and out of hospital, throughout every happy moment or grim setback, there has been one constant throughout my grandfather’s life that I have realized, and it may be what kept him alive so long: my grandpa loved us; he has always loved us.

And it’s his love that brought me peace today. The last thing I told my grandfather before he was sedated was “I love you,” and it was the last thing he said to us, too.

In this pandemic, we can’t be there for one another physically. We can’t hold the hands of our loved ones, but we can tell them time and time again just how much they mean to us. Try not to focus on lamenting the separation or the experiences lost: love the people around you who have gotten you through it all. Share your love — spread it to everyone, even that girl with the ponytail you used to sit next to in English class, or your neighbor with the fluffy dog who lives two doors down. Your love is powerful.

There are so many ways to love, and if there’s one thing that I hope in all of this, it’s that my grandfather knew all of them and that you will too. 

I love you, grandpa. Though you may be gone, I’ll tell you that again and again.

And to everyone reading this, I hope you let this crisis strengthen you, because someone out there loves you too, and that’s stronger than anything.

3 Comments

3 Responses to “Last week, my grandfather passed away from COVID-19. This is my story.”

  1. Samantha Leventis on May 28th, 2020 7:03 pm

    Such an amazing article

  2. Josh Harkins on May 29th, 2020 12:49 am

    Thank you for sharing your story, Maeve. This is incredibly powerful.

  3. Kim Mouland on May 29th, 2020 7:43 am

    This is really beautiful. Thank you for writing so powerfully and sharing.

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