“I See You, Abuela” :: Virtually Loving My Grandmother in the COVID ICU

I had imagined this day for a long time. 

My sweet, sweet Abuela lived a wondrous, abundant life. She proudly raised five children, nurtured thirteen grandchildren, and experienced seven great-grandchildren. She has lived in Puerto Rico, Spain, Louisiana, and Texas. Her heart of gold shines bright, and while she has been a great matriarch of the family, she has never been overbearing or controlling. She also is a woman of great faith, leading her children to lead faithful lives, with numerous children involved in church, one child owning and operating a religious-based travel business, and another son acting as a deacon in the Catholic Church.

Right alongside her faith, she taught her children the gift of music, as a piano teacher herself, which has been passed down through the generations. Many of her children play guitar, one played the cello. Her grandchildren are also impressive in their musical nature. One is an incredibly successful violin player, who still has gigs to this day. Another grandchild is a highly acclaimed opera singer, who has starred in numerous performances. A few others play guitar and other instruments, a grandson specifically who plays as part of his church group every Sunday.

Her legacy runs deep.

Her love and commitment to her family are immeasurable. She is also a fighter. Life handed her many challenges along the way, and what strength she must have had to raise five children at home while being a homemaker. Children who were sometimes up to such mischievous antics that would make the most sane people lose their marbles.  And while she has been older, with some health challenges, just a few weeks ago she was here with us, specifically my aunts in Houston. Breathing, smiling, living.

As I said, I imagined this day for a while now, but not like this. While she was supposed to pass on for many other health reasons, it’s wasn’t supposed to be from a preventable, highly contagious virus.

It’s wasn’t supposed to be from COVID-19.

No matter what personal opinions different family members had on the virus, we knew one thing for certain: we needed to exercise an overabundance of caution for Abuela. And everyone did such a good job, with some family members even going the extra mile and getting COVID tested before visiting her. However, as 2020 has shown us, we cannot control everything and some things are so beyond what we can plan for. No one planned for one of her in-home caretakers to be infected and to not wear a mask. Everyone thought we were being careful, everyone thought we were being safe.

As my grandmother lay fighting in the hospital’s ICU bed, so many of us family members grieved. It seemed so unfair that she was by herself and no one was allowed to be with her. It seemed so unfair that this was her potential last experience on Earth, fighting this very deadly and cruel virus.

There has been a lot of talk in American circles when we first discovered how lethal COVID-19 could be, specifically for older citizens. I’m sure this was supposed to be a way to calm fears by saying, it’s okay, it only affects those older, who may die anyway. They forgot to mention though, how they will be alone, how they were breathing just fine previously. How they were meant to stay longer with us. How this is the absolute last way you want your loving family member to depart.

In the absence of visiting privileges, the kind nurses at my Abuela’s hospital in Houston set-up a daily zoom call with our family. Even when they had to place her on the ventilator, they were adamant that she could still hear us. Every day my aunts and uncles, myself, and a handful of other cousins would join to talk with her, to be by her virtual bedside. True to form, my family came armed with music, songs, and prayers. My talented opera singer cousin serenaded her with beautiful classics, her brother playing beautiful compositions on his violin. My deacon uncle prayed over her relentlessly. And we were all there to tell her of our love for her, how we missed her, how we were there with her, despite our distance. It was heartbreaking not being with her in person, but it strangely gave so much peace and comfort to connect the family, who were scattered about different cities and states, to her bedside as she rested.

It felt full-circle that the very talents she gave and fostered to her family were given back to her in her final days.

We were fortunate that we held one last zoom meeting, a meeting we knew that would be her last, to continue to share these final moments with her. Towards the end of the call, she passed on to her final resting place, virtually surrounded by those who loved her most.

Christmas this year will be hard. Specifically for my immediate family, as this was our last living grandparent. But her legacy truly lives on and remains strong. As I look at all my different family members, I see a little of her in everyone. None of us would be who we are without her, and I truly believe that the best parts of us are directly tied to the beautiful values she enforced. Watch over us, Abeula, we love you and we will miss you.

Katie Templet
A kid at heart, Katie loves all things writing, Harry Potter and musicals. At any moment, she is down for either a cup of coffee or margarita. Her passions are building and improving her community of Lafayette, where she was born and raised, and teaching her one daughter to have a British accent. (Not so successful at that last part yet). She spends her day as a nonprofit ambassador, helping nonprofits amplify their mission and creating more social good.


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