When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, LUNG FORCE Hero Joan was concerned. As a stage III lung cancer survivor, she knew she was at risk for serious complications from COVID-19. Even though she was diagnosed in 2012, she was still dealing with side effects from her lung removal, radiation and chemotherapy. So, her loyal husband of 24 years, Howard, did his best to keep her safe and assumed the household responsibilities that posed any risk.
On July 8, Howard’s sister suffered a sudden and fatal heart attack. Restrictions were just lifted on funerals in New Jersey and so the grieving family proceeded with a funeral, viewing and luncheon. Joan only stayed for 30 minutes but Howard felt like he needed to be there to honor his sister and support his family. The day after the funeral Joan confronted Howard about how the large funeral proceedings made her uncomfortable. He said “I agree. I think about that every time I cough.”
Shortly after, Howard was diagnosed with COVID-19, along with several other members of the family who attended the funeral services. Joan tested positive too, but miraculously she remained asymptomatic.
Unfortunately, Howard’s illness progressed, and he was admitted to the hospital. His oxygen saturation levels measured 49 at the time of admission, when a healthy level is in the high 90s. Because of Joan’s positive COVID test, she was restricted from visiting her husband in the hospital, even when they issued his last rites. Howard’s condition deteriorated and he experienced other health issues because of COVID. Joan says, “When he started not feeling well, I slept in the guest room. If I had known, I would have held him tight.. It is to the medical professionals like whack-a-mole. Fix one thing and another arises.”
After 38 days in the hospital, 32 of which were spent on a ventilator, Howard passed away. “We had a beautiful service at Veteran’s Cemetery with an American Legion motorcycle brigade and full military honors. It was a picture-perfect day and we did everything to keep mourners safe,” says Joan.
She goes on to say, “I will be dealing with fallout forever. I have to sell our home. I have to adapt to a whole different world, as other people must do in times of tragic loss. This was needless.”
Howard’s obituary featured one of his favorite verses from a Grateful Dead song:
Walk into splintered sunlight
Inch your way through dead dreams to another land
Maybe you're tired and broken
Your tongue is twisted with words half spoken
And thoughts unclear
What do you want me to do
To do for you to see you through
A box of rain will ease the pain
And love will see you through
At the bottom of the obituary Joan added, “God bless the Grateful Dead and wear a mask!”
Joan is committed sharing her story, so others do not experience the loss of a loved one from COVID-19. “I am encouraging everyone to take this seriously. Wear a mask. Follow social distancing precautions. I will not let Howard’s death be in vain.”
To learn more about COVID-19 visit Lung.org/covid19.
Donate to the American Lung Association’s COVID-19 Action Initiative.
Blog last updated: November 2, 2020