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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Grace

I Lost My Papa Bear To COVID... and shouldn't have.

This past Monday, while the girls were at their first day of school, my grandmother made the heartbreaking, but right, decision to take my Papa Bear off of life support after a three week fight against COVID. & as a mom of high risk kids who kept them out of school since March of 2020 because we have one of "those" kids who COVID could kill - I wanted to drive back to their school and pull them out the second my grandma called me. I thought she was calling to ask how their first day went - and then her voice cracked.

I'm sharing the following because where we are cases are going up - and the uptick is largely preventable. Deaths like his can be preventable. As much as I wish COVID wasn't real, it is - and it's a monster. It isn't "just a cold."

I can't remember the last time I saw my Papa Bear (their Pops) not in the hospital. I had gotten so used to seeing them once a week or so over the last couple of years that whatever the last visit was just blends in with the others because I didn't know to memorize the details and nuances. If the twins weren't with Nick while I was working, they were with them.

I'm sure he walked in my front door, moved anything my grandmother might trip on, and took a seat at their little blue picnic table. He probably reached for Floof - who always got just close enough for him to almost pet before running away. We probably talked about my dad and plans for school for the twins and what they had been up to that week. & by "we" I mean my grandmother and I, while he patiently waited for us to stop chatting.

He would have hugged the twins and I goodbye and helped my grandma down the porch step. & I would have waved by to them once they loaded up - because that's how visits at our house went.

What I do remember is the last thing we said to each other before the hospital. I had called my grandma to check in and make sure she was almost home - they had driven to Florida earlier in the week to say goodbye to my aunt, who had had a heart attack and had to be taken off of life support. She's their youngest.

& my grandmother told me she had a meltdown in Cracker Barrell, because everything reminded her of my aunt there (all of the sparkly things). I didn't realize I was on speaker phone, so as I was telling my grandma goodbye I told her I love her and I hear, "What about me?!" & I was like, "OH MY GOSH I didn't know I was on speaker phone of course I love you too!" & we all laughed.

The next time I heard my grandpa on the other end of a phone line all I heard was him gasping for air. My dad had told me they were sick, and when I tried to check in I thought it was my grandma answering and having trouble breathing, which was terrifying because my dad had told me she was the healthier of the two so I just pictured my Papa Bear in even worse shape.

I was unloading trash at the trash place, called two more times - all three times all I heard was (I would learn later) my grandpa trying to catch his breath.

Because (we'd learn shortly) - he had COVID, and walking to the phone to try to answer it was too much for him.

Everyone who knows me well knows I'm a bit of a drama queen. I want to say I'm an optimist, but really I'm a pessimist who tries her best to be optimistic. When I called Nick I told him, "I'm sure it's fine. I'm sure I'm over-reacting. But I'm on my way to my grandparent's house because all I hear is someone gasping for air."

I tried to call back and nobody answered. Nobody text me back. & dad couldn't reach them either. About half way to Whittier (about 30 minutes from me) I felt like I couldn't breathe and called an ambulance to meet me. I didn't know their new address (their house burnt down in November) but I gave directions and told them I would be there in 20. They beat me there.

When I arrived my grandpa was refusing to go with them, and my grandma looked like she was going to faint. I knew they had COVID. & I knew putting her in my car was a risk, but I couldn't leave my grandma like that. & I would have loaded Pops into my car if he had been able to stand. The paramedic told me legally they can't just kidnap him ... But I asked him to please let the ambulance take him and told him I would meet him there with Grandma. Grandma double checked. He complied, we got them both loaded up, and we left.

Once we got to the hospital he was there with oxygen, and I could tell he felt horrible. But I smiled a little to myself because even though he could barely stand he still put on a button up shirt and a belt. He is the cutest little man in the world. I kept my distance, and my mask on, and was told that I could only be in one room or the other. Pops looked worse, so I picked his room. & waited until he was comfortable.

I told him in the future if he doesn't want to be picked up by the paramedics he has to answer the phone when I call and speak. He smiled and said, "Understood."

In the time it took me to grab a coffee and come back, both of my grandparents little glass rooms had "WARNING" "COVID POSITIVE" signs taped to them in red. My heart sank, because my Pops had a bad heart. Because my grandma is one of the twins' favorite people. Because I had just exposed myself and potentially the girls. Because COVID is scary for me, and was even before it finally took someone I loved.

They took him to the ICU, and my grandma got to go home.

She was vaccinated, he wasn't.

& for the rest of this pandemic when someone asks, "Why should I?" I'm going to be able to tell them, "Because it's a life and death difference. My grandparents both got it - and my grandpa, who hadn't been vaccinated yet didn't make it, but my grandma did."

My grandpa told my grandmother he wishes she had made him sooner.

But she couldn't have - she tried.

& I hate it. I hate that one of my favorite people in the world because a statistic. I hate that the only person I love who I have never seen angry or mad is a warning story now.

I hate that I wonder if Florida took COVID more seriously if he would be here still.

I hate that I wonder if more people masked up to protect people like him, people like Brooklynn if he'd be here still.

I want to pull the twins back out of school and every day I watch the case counts go up and I hate that he's one of those thousands of people.

Because he's so much more than a statistic.

He is the grandpa who taught me to ride a four wheeler.

Who fixed anything that was broken. Who told me I looked pretty after I painted my face like a clown with makeup when I was little.

Who co-signed our current car for me so I didn't have a higher interest rate and because he wanted the twins in a more reliable car.

Who never got mad when I used all his shaving cream to play in the bathtub because it was fun.

Who bought me that Zebra stripe gum anytime we went to Publix.

Who didn't complain about watching Charlotte's Web 209202 times in a row.

Who liked to fish with the twins.

Who bought them bags of dirt just so they could make mud pies (look how cute).

Who had a piece of paper with all of the A&W logos and the years and differences and would study it excitedly when he got a new (or old) mug.

Who built anything my grandma thought would be pretty, or anything she needed - because he could.

Who turned a patch of uneven dirt into a home for him & my grandma after their home burnt down - one with a porch to sit on and flowers everywhere.

He told the nurse who asked him what he did for fun before they sedated him that he, "Liked to dig holes for my sweetie." & finally elaborated that it was because my grandma loves flowers.

Less than three weeks later my grandmother held him (I'm so thankful the ICU allowed her in there) while he passed. & my heart is broken and angry at the same time.

Because COVID is unfair and life is unfair and my grandpa was the kind of man who built a little screened in porch type area for all of their friends in the campground to hang out in away from the mosquitos. Who would come over to my house, see something little that could be tinkered with, and walk back out to get his tools.

My grandparents were careful.

They didn't go to grocery stores unless it was early in the morning.

They wore their masks.

They didn't go on vacations.

They used hand sanitizer and washed their hands.

My grandma got the vaccine to protect the twins - and he was going to eventually.

If you haven't yet, I am imploring you to consider doing so.

He really did tell the nurses and my grandma he wished he had.

I wish he had.

So does she.

If you haven't been wearing a mask, please reconsider. My grandparents wearing masks in a state that is KNOWN for being anti-mask wasn't enough. They would have been better protected had the people around them been wearing them, too.

Please wash your hands.

Please stay home if you're sick.

Even if you "think" it's allergies.

There are so many free COVID testing sites - if you MAYBE have it, get tested.

& if you do - and I can't stress this enough - quarantine for as long as you're supposed to.

Because if you knowingly have COVID and choose to go about your day because you "feel fine" you are basically saying, "FU," to kids like mine who won't feel fine when they catch it from you. You're saying, "IDC if you did that's not my problem," to elderly and high risk individuals like my Papa Bear.

If less people were selfish and more people considered other people over themselves, we would be celebrating my dad's birthday this weekend at my grandparent's house with ice cream cake and pizza and my grandpa would probably be watering a pile of dirt with the hose so the twins could play in the mud even if they were wearing their nice clothes.

That isn't what out weekend looks like, though - because not enough people are taking this seriously enough.

& it's easier to be angrier about that than it is to think about how I won't see my grandpa again.

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