The outbreak of the deadly and highly contagious coronavirus pandemic has been robbing family members of the opportunity to say goodbye to patients dying from the disease in person, instead forcing them to rely on technology and the kindness of caretakers to bid their final farewells.
King County Sheriff’s Major Michelle Bennett last saw her mother, Carolann Gann, 75, on FaceTime as the woman was slipping away at Swedish Issaquah Hospital in Washington state last Thursday, a week after she tested positive for COVID-19 at her nursing home.
KIRO7 reported that Gann, a retired nurse and mother of five suffering from heart disease, was living at Issaquah Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. S
FaceTime farewell: King County Sheriff’s Major Michelle Bennett (pictured left with her mother) got to say goodbye to her coronavirus-stricken mother, Carolann Gann, 75, via FaceTime on Thursday (right) thanks to the kindness of a hospital nurse
Gann contracted the deadly virus a little more than a week ago while living at Issaquah Nursing and Rehabiliation in Washington state
Hero: Bennett said a nurse at Swedish Issaquah Hospital (pictured) reached out to her on Thursday to say her mother was dying and offered to give the patient her phone so she could speak to her daughter on FaceTime one last time
‘Not being able to be there and hold my mom’s hand, rub her head, tell her the things I wanted to say her. It was such a helpless feeling,’ Bennett told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin on Monday, reducing the veteran cable news anchor to tears.
Bennett said Tatiana, a nurse looking after her mother at the hospital, noticed that Gann’s breathing was becoming more labored, so she contacted the daughter to say her mother was dying, and to give her the chance to say a final goodbye to her via FaceTime on her own personal phone.
‘I’m going to put the phone up to her face so you can tell her you love her and say your goodbyes,’ Bennett says the nurse told her. ‘She will not be alone, we will stay with her till the end.’
Bennett said she told her mother she loved her, offered her forgiveness for past mistakes, said she was going to miss her and told her it was OK for her to pass on now.
The daughter recounted that as nurse Tatiana took away the phone from her mother, she could see tears streaming down her mask.
No one from Gann’s family (pictured) was there at the end because of quarantine restrictions, but her nurse promised to stay with her until the end
Bennett, a veteran law enforcement official, said she is eternally grateful to the nursing staff for giving her the opportunity to say goodbye to her mother
An hour later, Carolann Gann breathed her last and passed away.
‘I think she needed to hear that. I think she was holding on until we were able to say, “It’s OK to go,”‘ Bennett said.
Bennett said the most important thing for her was that her mother, herself a retired nurse of 38 years, did not die alone thanks to the kindness of compassionate hospital staff risking their lives.
‘I cannot thank them enough,’ said Bennett. ‘I cannot imagine not having had the opportunity to say goodbye, to say, “You can pass,” to say “I forgive you” and ‘I love you.”‘
By Monday night, coronavirus had claimed more lives in the US than the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. As of Tuesday morning, there were 164,671 confirmed cases and 3,180 fatalities nationwide.
Washington state, where Carolann Gann met her end last week, is one of the major US hotspots of the virus, with 5,192 cases and 219 deaths.
As of Tuesday morning, there were 164,671 confirmed cases of COVID-19 nationwide and 3,180 deaths
Vancouver, Washington, residents Merle and Dee Tofte, who have been married for 52 years, contracted the virus in early March, reported The Washington Post.
Dee, a Parkinson’s disease patient who had just turned 85 in February, fell ill first. Her 86-year-old husband came down with fever, chills and a bad cough – all textbook symptoms of the novel coronavirus – a few days later.
By March 11, both were at the hospital and tested positive for COVID-19.
The couple’s condition rapidly deteriorated and on March 16 their five grown children and four grandchildren were told that Merle and Dee had just hours to live.
Unable to be with their dying loved ones in person due to quarantine rules, the family members called Dee and Merle on FaceTime to bid farewell.
Two granddaughters even serenaded the dying couple with their favorite song, Doris Day’s classic ‘A Bushel and Peck.’
Later that day, Dee and Merle passed away a few hours apart, becoming the first two coronavirus fatalities in the county.
The couple were laid to rest in matching pajamas sets that they received as gifts from family members during Dee’s birthday celebration on February 28.
No family members were allowed to attend their twin burials, and there was no funeral ceremony because of a governor’s order banning large gatherings to curb the spread of the virus.
Dee Tofte, 85, and her husband of 52 years, Merle Toft, 86, died within hours of one another in a Washington state hospital just days after testing positive for COVID-19. Their family members said goodbye to the couple on FaceTime
In a different part of the hard-hit Washington state, Sundee Rutter, 42, a breast cancer survivor and mother of six, succumbed to the coronavirus after saying goodbye to her loved ones via walkie-talkie.
She was first admitted to Providence Regional Medical Center, the hospital which treated the first known case of COVID-19, on March 3, according to BuzzFeed News.
That day, she and her son, Elijah Ross-Rutter, 20, spent eight hours in a sealed room while she was treated by hospital staff wearing full protective suits.
‘They don’t even want to touch my mom,’ Elijah, who was allowed to see his mother with a face mask on, recalled.
Sundee Rutter, 42, a breast cancer survivor from Washington state, died on March 16 after saying goodbye to her family via a walkie-talkie
That same day, she was sent home.
‘She thought she had the flu, probably,’ Ross-Rutter said.
Four days later, Rutter and her son returned to the hospital. While Ross-Rutter waited in the visiting area, his mother was examined by doctors.
A few hours later, Ross-Rutter was told that his mother was suffering from pneumonia and that she would be kept at the hospital overnight.
The next day, Rutter tested positive for coronavirus.
‘For a while, she was able to text,’ Ross-Rutter said. On March 12, his mother texted him that she was feeling ‘much better.’
But her text messages would eventually be limited to just emojis.
‘She was sending me hearts on the messages but she wasn’t replying,’ Ross-Rutter said.
On March 16, the family received a phone call from a doctor telling them they should come to the hospital.
Ross-Rutter, his five siblings, and his mother’s sister watched from a small glass window as Rutter lay in her bed.
Rutter is seen above with her six children in this undated file photo. She would have turned 43 years old in August
As Rutter was moment away from death, her 20-year-old son assured her that her children would be looked after.
The children said goodbye to their mother using a hand-held radio whose receiver was propped next to her pillow.
‘I told her I love her … she shouldn’t worry about the kids,’ Ross-Rutter said.
The most difficult part was not being able to be in the same room with his mother during her final moments.
‘Like, I’m about to lose my best friend and she can’t even hear me,’ Ross-Rutter said.
Across the country, in Florida, Tom Sheehan lay dying at Sarasota Memorial Hospital on Saturday after contracting the coronavirus on the Carnival Costa Luminosa cruise ship.
Due to quarantine restrictions, family members could not be present when Sheehan, 69, drew his last breath, but they were able to say their goodbyes over speakerphone.
Tom Sheehan, 69, and his wife, Jill (pictured), contracted the virus on a cruise to Europe last month. Tom passed away from the disease on Saturday after his family bid him farewell on speakerphone
As Miami Herald first reported, relatives told Sheehan they loved him and thanked him for being a great, husband, father and grandfather.
His wife, Jill, who had joined him on the cruise to Italy, Spain and France, also tested positive for COVID-19, but she is home and is said to be doing better now.
According to Tom’s grown son, Kevin Sheehan, his father and stepmother were not told about the virus spreading on board the ship by the time the vessel reached Puerto Rico, where an elderly Italian couple were taken from the boat and rushed to a local hospital where both tested positive for the virus. The female patient has since died.
‘If the ship had told everyone what was going on, my dad and stepmom would have gotten off in Puerto Rico and flown home,’ said Kevin. ‘But they didn’t tell them. So they stayed on the ship.’
In the days that followed, the ship continued on its voyage without making any stops, and Sheehan, who had a pre-existing respiratory condition, began having trouble breathing.
‘We think at that point my father had already been exposed,’ his son said. ‘He thought his bronchitis was coming back. We realize now the virus had got him.’
When the Costa Luminosa docked in Marseilles, France, about half of the 75 passengers who were tested were found to have the coronavirus.
The American and Canadian travelers, including Sheehan, his wife and a couple they were traveling with, were put on a plane and flown to Atlanta, the home of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but Kevin Sheehan said agency officials only took their temperature and asked them a few basic questions before allowing everyone from the flight to enter the crowded terminal.
On March 20, Tom and Jill Sheehan arrived back in Sarasota sick and bedraggled.
The next time, they went to the hospital and tested positive for the coronavirus. By then, Tom’s breathing was labored and he had lost 20lbs.
‘He was terrified,’ his son said. ‘In one of his lasts texts to my sister, he said “if I caught this virus I’m dead.” And he was right.’
On Friday, a nurse helped the family speak to Tom one last time on speakerphone. Kevin said he hoped his dying father, who was hooked up to a ventilator and given sedatives, could hear them in his final moments of life.