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COLUMN: Watching my Grandma pass from COVID-19, saying goodbye on my birthday


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On my 10th birthday, I spent the whole day playing with my new barbie house - the one my parents swore they weren’t getting me. I had made the varsity cheer team on my 16th birthday. 

I knew Nov. 29, 2020 was going to be different. COVID-19 has taken so much from so many families. The year 2020 had already been filled with disease, debt and death. The continuing impact of COVID-19 meant there wasn't going to be a big dinner party or night out at the bar with friends. That was okay with me. There will always be next year, I reasoned with myself. 

But I will always consider my 22nd birthday to be the most memorable. It was the day I discovered COVID-19 would take my grandmother from me. It was the day I didn't tell her goodbye. 

Barbara Rewerts was the strongest woman I knew, and her track record shows it. Recovering from a work accident causing brain damage at 41, beating lung cancer at 75, and not to mention spending a majority of her life raising three children.  

But COVID-19 shows no mercy.  

At first, it was the pandemic that brought us together.  

Her no longer being able to live alone and me just being laid-off from my job equaled us spending the summer quarantined together. I learned more about her in that time than I’ve known my whole life. 

We spent mornings watching game shows, the afternoon cooking where she taught me her secret recipes, and ended the day with even more game shows. 

At the end of summer she moved to an assisted living home where she had the opportunity to get daily physical therapy, where she was supposed to recover. 

Instead of seeing her everyday, I now only saw her select days, through a window. It hurt, but I was okay with it, I saw her get stronger. 

Then, it was the pandemic that ripped us apart 

She tested positive for COVID-19, three days later she was sent to Sparrow hospital in Lansing, and two days later her children and grandchildren said goodbye. It was my birthday. 

I went to the hospital with 12 other family members, but at the last minute I decided I couldn’t handle it. Only three family members could be up there at a time, the waiting got to be too much as the devastation settled in and I found myself too broken to face her. 

I was the only one who didn’t say goodbye. 

I heard more “I’m sorry” that day than I needed to. “I’m sorry this happened on your birthday” or “I’m sorry this is how you’re spending it.” 

I dismissed it as being a day of celebration as soon as I heard the news. Oddly enough, my older sister's 22nd birthday is when we said goodbye to my grandfather. So, I simply responded with “It happens.” 

And it does. It is reported that over two million people have died from this virus. Life moves fast, it doesn’t slow down for anything, but it feels like the coronavirus has somehow sped it up. 

Some may say I’m in the first stage of grief, denial, but I believe she would still be here if she had never gotten it, even with her preexisting conditions. She was getting stronger, I saw it. Coronavirus killed her and her chance. 

Take action, do what you can to slow this virus down. When you can, stay home and get vaccinated. Let’s do our part to save more children, parents and grandparents. We are all at risk of losing a loved one. 

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