This article is part of a series called “Grief Stories.” With over 500,000 who have lost their lives to the COVID-19 virus and countless others that passed away within the last year, grief has been on the minds of many. Yet, in some cases, those who are grieving have had to deal with their pain alone. This series is designed to encourage those who have suffered a loss to speak out.
By: Katie Peluso
It was December of 2019. I was up to my ears in holiday orders for my small personalization business, coordinating Christmas in my own home, working nights at a restaurant and six months pregnant with our second child.
COVID was not even on my radar. My husband had been experiencing terrible back pain for the past few months. On December 18 he called me from the ER after his CAT scan and asked me to come to the hospital because they were admitting him. When I arrived I was under the impression this meant back surgery was in his future. Instead, after a two-hour wait, the ER doctor on duty came in to deliver the news.
“We found tumors in your spine, it appears that you have lung cancer that has spread to your bones. I’m sorry,” she said, and she walked out.
I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I had just been hit with a hammer in the stomach. I looked at my husband and we both just broke down in tears and held each other. When we gained our composure we told each other it was going to be ok, he would fight this and he was strong and we’d do it together every step of the way. I wasn’t able to stay with him because I had to get back to our 4 year old who I left with my parents.
The next 3 months were a whirlwind. Test after test revealed the cancer had spread everywhere, it was breaking or deteriorating his bones one by one. The tumors began blocking his airway. He was only able to get one chemo treatment in because the doctors were constantly putting out new fires that cropped up in his body.
Monday March 16, 2020: I showed up to the hospital with Taco Bell for my husband. He was barely eating at this point so bringing him his favorite tacos I did gladly. When I got to the front desk to check in they told me I was not allowed to visit him. They said the whole hospital was shutting down to visitors due to COVID. They apologized and turned me away.
I went to the administration and asked for an exception. My C-Section was scheduled for that Friday the 20th and I wanted to see my husband before our daughter was born. They wouldn’t allow it.
I was heartbroken. I was completely removed from him, he may as well have been in another world. He was all alone in that room and he didn’t know why. He would go hours before being able to respond to my texts and often all I got back was garbled letters. I was cut off from him. I was about to give birth to my daughter without my husband.
March 19, 2020: the day before my scheduled C-Section. I was at my parents house because they would be looking after my son while I was having my daughter. My sister would be my support person. She couldn’t leave and come back, she couldn’t swap with anyone. It had to be one person the whole way, no exceptions.
At about 10:30 pm, as I was getting ready for bed, my phone rang. It was the hospital. They were calling to tell me that my husbands heart had stopped. They did CPR on him for 15 minutes before they were able to revive him, but he was on a ventilator and it was not looking good. I fell to the floor in a crumpled heap and yelled for my mom and sister through gasps and sobs.
They came to me and held me, and told me I would get through this, for him, for our baby, for our son. I did the best I could to compose myself. I sent my husband a long text telling him how much I loved him and how much I wished he was there with me. I knew he’d never read it. But I sent it anyway.
The next morning my sister and I got up and went to the hospital to check in for my C-Section. We did everything we could to make this her day, and we were excited to meet her. The birth went perfectly, and our beautiful daughter Abigail was born healthy. I spent the entire day glowing with pride for our beautiful child. I’m grateful for hospital staff for giving me this.
The next morning, March 21, my husband’s doctors called.
They informed me that they were very sorry, but they had to revive him three times to keep him alive and I needed to make a decision about the DNR.
The choice was obvious to me, even though I knew it meant he’d be gone. After some phone calls the nurses gave me the option to be discharged to go say goodbye to him, but that I would not be able to return and I would have to leave the baby at the hospital. Something inside of me told me “no, stay. You need to be here for your daughter’s first hours of life.” I felt so sure about this, although I agonized over it.
I immediately called my mom and she rushed to his hospital; they let her up to say goodbye and she called me on video chat.
She held the phone up to his face so I could see him. His was so pale and drawn, so deteriorated. He was still intubated so I had the chance to say goodbye. I showed Abigail to him on video. I told him she was perfect and I promised to take care of her and Jack. I told him we were going to be okay, I would always love him, and I would make sure his babies knew how loved by him they were. I promised him. And then I said goodbye.
They were going to remove the ventilator. All I could do was wait helpless knowing he was going to die at any moment. I sobbed in relief that he didn’t die alone. I sob now as I write this that he died without me.
My heart is broken. I will never be the same. A piece of me went with him that day, but I made a promise. I will raise our babies to be happy and healthy and no amount of pain will get in the way of that.
COVID took the last week of my husband’s life from me. I didn’t get to hug him one last time. I didn’t get to laugh with him one last time. Those precious moments were stolen from me. I will forever be haunted knowing that he had no idea why no one was there for him that last week. I can only hope that he knows now that he is at peace.
Katie Peluso is the owner of Crafty as a Mother, a personalized gift store in Wappingers Falls. She resides in Poughquag with her two kids.