Lives lost too soon: students discuss losses experienced during COVID-19 pandemic

Thursday, November 5, 2020 - 10:36pm

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Design by Man Lam Cheng

Graduate student Jeffrey Grim’s last moments with his grandparents consisted of Zoom calls and waiting outside their room in the hospital. Despite following public health guidelines, both of Grim’s grandparents, Jacob and Doris Bender, contracted COVID-19 this summer. 

“The hardest part was not being able to do anything,” Grim said.

Doris and Jacob, who worked in the Army, married in 1958 after meeting in Hawaii . They moved to Jacob’s hometown, Sharpsburg, Md., where Doris worked in a hair salon and Jacob worked for Jamison Door Company. Doris also became a small-time celebrity for crocheting more than 2,000 hats for newborns. The residents from Sharpsburg remembered the couple as always willing to lend a hand.

This summer, both of Grim’s grandparents died two days apart from each other, separated by two rooms. 

Grim is one of many Americans experiencing loss from the coronavirus pandemic. More than 230,000 people have died from COVID-19, with researchers projecting another 180,000 deaths by Jan. 1. 

While both of Grim’s grandparents were in their 80s, they had differing preexisting conditions: asthma and prior heart damage for his grandmother and recovery from prostate cancer for his grandfather. Grim said both of his grandparents had to be hospitalized as their conditions worsened. 

Patients who contract COVID-19 have extremely limited physical contact with close family, where the only form of contact allowed is calling through a mobile device. Grim recounts using Zoom to have 15-minute interactions with his grandparents, even if they were sedated. 

This form of contact included a sobering interaction in which Grim had to say his final goodbyes to both of his grandparents.

On college campuses, images of college students partying without wearing a mask or social distancing have been prevalent. LSA sophomore Junhyoung Kwon said he thinks people aren’t taking the pandemic seriously due to lack of understanding of COVID-19 and the consequences of contracting the virus. 

“If you hear about other people getting affected, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to … sympathize with it unless it actually happens to you,” Kwon said.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to combat the virus include wearing a mask and social distancing at least six feet apart, but these recommendations have been ignored by some individuals.

Grim said he feels outraged when he sees people without masks or not adhering to the CDC guidelines to combat COVID-19.

“If there’s someone not wearing a mask, I think it’s just so selfish, because it’s people like that that probably spread it to my grandparents,” Grim said. “And so, for people to think, ‘I’m not going to be hurt by it,’ that’s not necessarily true … you could pass it on to other people, especially people who are working, especially older people, and it’s just really selfish.”

People who show no symptoms may not feel the detrimental effects of COVID-19 but can still spread it to others. People who are asymptomatic may not know if they have been infected, and wearing a mask regardless of showing symptoms can prevent others from getting infected. 

LSA sophomore Sally Hwang said she knows several people who have tested positive for the virus.

“It is so heartbreaking and sad that there’s nothing you can really do besides wait it out,” Hwang said.

Despite the increasing number of students on campus testing positive for COVID-19, Hwang expresses her frustration when some students continue to downplay the threat of the virus. 

“I hear people outside of this apartment partying every single night next door and in the building next to us,” Hwang said. “It’s really disappointing, because it honestly seems like there’s not a lot of people taking it seriously on campus, and I really just feel like that brings the reputation of the school down.”

Grim, who is in his sixth year as a doctoral candidate, notes how his school life has been impacted after the deaths of his grandparents.

“Besides impacting my family’s life and my life significantly, it’s made it really hard to do school work. It makes it really hard to work on my dissertation,” Grim said.

Grim said he hopes his story will motivate others to take the consequences of the pandemic seriously.

“I really hope that from me and my family sharing our story about losing two really important people, that maybe it might personalize things for others so that they take better care, if not for themselves but for others,” Grim said. “I would do anything (to have) my grandmother back.”

Daily Staff Reporter Cynthia Huang can be reached at huangcyn@umich.edu


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