Losing the last goodbye: some people aren’t able to see their loved ones before they pass away

By Ava Pukatch

Mary Glenn Krause’s sister Talley as a child with her grandmother Janice, who passed away in June 2020. (Mary Glenn Krause)

The death of a loved one is difficult to deal with and it’s become even harder during the pandemic. UNC 2020 graduate Mary Glenn Krause is just one of the people who found that out.

Ava Pukatch reports.

Audio Transcription:

AVA PUKATCH: The death of a loved one is difficult to deal with. But it’s become even harder during the pandemic. UNC 2020 graduate Mary Glenn Krause is just one of the people who was unfortunate to find that out. On May 10, Mary Glenn Krause, a UNC 2020 graduate, visited her grandmother for the first time in months. They sat surrounded by bright red flowers in the garden of Crabtree Residential Living nursing home in Raleigh, on a sunny day. The visit was brief – only eight minutes – but the memory was long lasting.

MARY GLENN KRAUSE: That was my last interaction, seeing her in a fetal position, covered by a blanket, and we were separated by plastic.

PUKATCH: Her grandmother sat in a wheelchair. Krause and her family members knelt on the other side of a clear plastic screen. A month later, Krause was on an archaeology work trip in Chattanooga, Tennessee when her father called to deliver the news – Her grandmother, Janice, passed away from old age.

KRAUSE: I wasn’t able to be there with her body before they cremated her. And that was very hard. I wasn’t able to hold her hand or brush her hair or anything like that.

PUKATCH: After the country shutdown, public health guidelines prevented many people from visiting loved ones in long-term care facilities. But even as COVID-19 restrictions relax, many facilities continue limited visitation. Laura Youngblood, a caregiver at St Francis Hospice in Syracuse, New York sees the impact of it daily. She said they only allow residents four visitors per day during a four hour window.

LAURA YOUNGBLOOD: And if you’re the fifth child of that one person, you know, it’s not fair. But I mean, a pandemic isn’t fair. And it’s just, there’s no good solution to it. And it’s just painful.

PUKATCH: Youngblood said St Francis Hospice provides virtual connections through video calls for family members who aren’t able to visit during the last period of life – even if the person isn’t able to talk back. 

YOUNGBLOOD: We’ll put the phone receiver up to that person who is near the end of their life and just let a family member talk to them that way they can hear their voice. And it’s comforting for both parties.

PUKATCH: Funeral homes are also taking steps to help families through the grieving process. Stephen Mitchell, of Walker’s Funeral Home in Chapel Hill, said they offer live streamed and recorded services for people who can’t attend in person. They offer every family the option to delay services until everyone can be together.

STEPHEN MITCHELL: It’s been my experience over the years and even without a pandemic that the longer you wait, the less chances of having that service happen. We want to at least show some kind of compassion and say look we’re we want to work with you as best we can.

PUKATCH: As best they can, in a public space and in a personal one. Mary Glenn Krause spoke at her grandmother’s in-person, masked, and socially distanced funeral. She said she’s glad she had an opportunity to honor her. But, that it’s in the emotional moments at night alone, when she truly allows herself to grieve. She remembers the drawings she did with her grandmother as a child which she thought she lost.

KRAUSE: I just sat there and cried over these silly doodles she used to do when I was a kid. I loved drawing as a kid and she would always comply with my demands. And I thought I lost all of them.

PUKATCH: But her aunt kept one and gave it to her for Christmas – a framed pencil drawing of the Owl from Winnie the Pooh which her grandmother drew years ago. When Krause wants to remember, all she needs to do is look on the wall above her nightstand.

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