Stories: Who We Have Lost

Humor Always Had a Place in Our Day

Story aboutMichael Wiemers (1 of 2)

It’s the fall of 1981, and I am a Southern California girl who had just graduated from nursing school. I’d landed my “wish job” working in the Obstetrics Department of a local community hospital. The hospital wasn’t particularly large, so it was easy to know your colleagues on other floors. One day I hear through the scuttlebutt about a 3rd year medical student training there, who was living in a camper truck in the hospital parking lot. So, a few days later this guy, who I didn’t recognize, comes walking by the nurses’ station, and I blurt out, “oh, you’re the guy living in the parking lot.” Immediately I realized I had just had an “open mouth, insert foot” moment.

As the next few weeks passed on, he would conveniently saunter by, and I began to get to know him. As we chatted during the workday, I found him interesting and thought to myself, he could be the most unique person I had ever met. After several weeks, he popped in on me eating lunch in the nurses lounge. Looking very nervous, he asked if I would like to go out with him, and I said yes. Little did I know then, that three years later, we would marry and move to New Mexico to start our life together.

Even in the face of life’s ups and downs, we had a blessed 39 years which ended when Mike went into the hospital in October 2020 for diverticulitis issues. During the first year of the pandemic, he was advised to be evaluated in the E.R., but first he had to have a Covid test. The next day the test came back negative, which was no surprise as we were always careful, trying to avoid the deadly virus. When we arrived at the hospital, due to Covid restrictions, I had to leave him at the concrete barriers at the Emergency Department. How was I to know at that moment that it would be the last time I would ever see him again? After two weeks of being hospitalized, Mike became sicker, and it was not related to his diverticulitis. Eventually, he was diagnosed with pneumonia, and aggressive respiratory therapy treatment began. On my twice a day calls with his nurses, they told me he seemed to be getting worse. He couldn’t hold his oxygen levels, and his shortness of breath was worse. The doctors called to get my permission to place him on a ventilator, as he could no longer advocate for himself.

Five days later on a Saturday night, the phone rang — it’s the hospital. Over the phone I heard that the love of my life had tested positive for Covid. At that moment, it was as if I had been gut-punched, with all the air leaving my body. I was in such shock, I couldn’t find the words to even form a sentence.

And just like that, the talk went from him slowly recovering, to discussing end of life issues. In a heartbeat, my world had been flipped upside down. Apparently, during his time in the hospital, Mike had been exposed and became infected with Covid. Six days later, all hope was gone. Mike’s healthy lungs were now so badly scarred that he would never function without the ventilator. Because of Covid restrictions, there would be no opportunity to sit at his bedside, to hold his hand and say that final goodbye.

Later that day, Mike was gone. He died all alone with his doctor in the room. I had lost my person, my everything, my partner in crime. There is no doubt we loved each other, but also precious was the fact that we still really liked each other, after all those years.

Humor Always Had a Place in Our Day

Story aboutMichael Wiemers (2 of 2)

And so, I choose to celebrate our history together by remembering Mike’s acute sense of humor. With his impeccable timing, he was a master joke teller. He had this ability to convince family and friends to believe just about anything. And after he had his hook in you, he would follow with his famous, “nah, got ya.”

One day, during Mike’s career as a medical officer, he came home from work telling me he’d been assigned temporary duty in the Black Sea, and needed to travel to Istanbul to catch his military ship, to which I responded, “yeah right.” He tried everything to convince me, but with that far-fetched story, I wasn’t buying it. Sure enough 3 weeks later, he’s on a plane to Istanbul.

We still laughed about that moment every now and then which makes sense because during our many years together, humor always had a place in our day. It has been said that laughter is the key to a long happy life. We both understood this, sometimes even on the darkest days. We had fun in our daily lives, whether it be cooking a simple meal, or him jumping out to scare me as I walked down a dark hallway. Even after all the years, we had a solid mutual appreciation of one another.
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One of Covid’s cruelest consequences is how many victims of the virus, like Mike, died alone. I have organized a Yellow Heart Memorial at the Pavilion Recreation Center in Georgetown, Kentucky, which will begin this April. Each heart symbolizes someone lost to the pandemic, but instead of being by themselves, the hearts are gathered together, in solidarity, keeping company with each other and those of us who remain. Michael’s yellow heart will be on this wall.

Mike Wiemers was an amazing man with an undeniable love of life. He loved me, and children Bryan, and Lara, and we all loved him back.

Starry Night

Story aboutJody Settle

The second anniversary of my husband Jody’s passing from COVID-19 will be on April 19th. March 30th would have been his 60th birthday.

I had a strange dream that night. (I don’t usually remember dreams, but this one I did.)

Jody and I were in Provincetown, a small town at the tip of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Unlike New York City, there is very little human generated light. At night, the skies are pitch black and full of stars …

We were looking out over the ocean. Gazing up at the stars, I wished Jody a Happy Birthday. Then, I turned toward him and he was gone. I looked back up into the sky and all the stars had turned into small yellow hearts. I guess he was telling me he was okay. They are all looking out for us.

I went most of my life without talking to my aunt only because we lived in different cities, but when she moved to Radcliff, Kentucky in 2004, I made sure to be around her on a regular basis. My mother always wanted me to get to know her sister, and this was my opportunity. We talked and laughed — on the phone, at the movies, and countless lunches and dinners with a huge side of laughter. She even met my friends, making them her friends with her unique sense of humor.

I was her “faaaaavorite niece,” but I reminded her that I was her “only niece.”

“That’s not the point!”

Several years ago, I was leaving her house in Radcliff, and a wayward deer appeared to be charging toward us but ran farther away. “Rudolph” was more afraid of us than anything, but we still bumped into each other trying to get back into the house. “I saved your life!” she said proudly.

Her so-called heroic effort made her feel good, that’s all that mattered.

Another time, I was visiting my aunt in the hospital, and she needed a blood transfusion. The nurse walked into her room and announced, “I have your B-positive ready.” I perked up and said, “Hey, that’s my blood type, too. So, it’s in our blood to ‘be positive,’ get it?”

“Get out!” she said, feigning disapproval of my clever pun. Actually, she thought it was funny that I stayed in her room, laughing at my own joke.

During the pandemic, we resorted to talking on the phone. When I did come to visit, it was only to knock on her door and drop off food supplies and face masks, including one designed with Michelle Obama’s images, which she loved. I would leave before she could open the door for social distancing purposes.

Several months later, there was one time I couldn’t reach her on the phone. Knowing that I would be worried, my cousin (her son) called to tell me that my aunt had been rushed to the hospital with Covid-19. Thank God, the hospital’s nurses allowed us to talk to her on Facetime. My aunt always had a sense of humor, even throughout her hospital stays with heart issues. This last time was not any different, and she joked with my cousins and me without missing a beat.

Even though the nurses warned us that she didn’t have long to live, my aunt’s personality was still as strong as ever. Maybe the nurses were wrong.

Unfortunately, they weren’t wrong, and I have missed my aunt every day since January 28, 2021. There are times when I look in the mirror and I’m reminded of her because of my dimples — a family trait.

I guess I’m meant to smile so that I can see them. I like to think that’s another reason why she always tried to make me laugh.

Gaya

Story aboutCynthia Rose Ryan (1 of 2)

On my wall is a framed chart that my mother, Cynthia Rose Ryan, created when I was just a little girl. It’s full of guidance & special words straight from her heart. Mom was a self-taught numerologist and charted for people who were in need of help, needed structure, someone to confide in, or simply just needed a friend. Loved by all and cherished by her family, she was our matriarch.

Among what she wrote was that I’d be selfless, serve others, and value life’s deepest meanings.

It’s ironic that she also embodied these traits. She had a heart of gold, wild and free, tailored to giving care for others, helping to raise her grandchildren, loving all things Native American, astrological and naturalistic.

Mom was a veteran of the Army. Having served during Vietnam, she was a child of the 60‘s and grew up during one of the one of the most tumultuous and divisive decades in world history, marked by the civil rights movement and the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

My parents met in high school and were married in 1969, the year my eldest brother was born, when Mom was just 18 and Dad 19. Theirs is a true love story of destiny. Two soul mates, surviving the test of time.

Fostering her little brother, my Uncle, and some of our cousins for a time, my parents loved their family and grandchildren so very much and my mom could have taught a class or written a book on how to be the best housewife of the longest-living generation in history, the Baby Boom Era.

Coping without her strength, support and daily reminders of everything you normally forget, has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Our love for her endures … remembered in memories of all she blessed us with in her life.

She gave our family her undivided attention and always made our lives rich even when times were the most difficult growing up.

One of my fondest childhood memories was one of their hardest times in life. Our family had to live in tents at a campground for 6 months when my parents’ cabin burnt down due to arson fire when we lived in Sugarloaf, up in the mountains.

I remember the school bus dropping us off in the woods and feeling like we were so cool, hiking, marshmallow roasting, adventures with my siblings every day, and staying up all night playing card games like kings on the corner, hearts and spades, and Yahtzee; that was a favorite.

As an adult, I know it was hard for a young couple with four kids to live that way — isolated and trying to figure out how to start over with nothing — but we were happy, they made it great and it was due to her ingenuity. Her resourcefulness was second to none. Grieving her loss is a daily tug of war.

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