Sadly, I share with you the loss of my Mom to COVID-19

Jennifer Skiff with her mother’s dog, Impy

October 2020

Dusk is turning to darkness. My mother is dying on the other side of the window. She’s alone.  “We’re right here Mom.  We love you,” my brother, sister and I yell, pounding on the window.  I step back, wiping away the relentless flow of tears.  My eye catches a flicker and I turn to it.  Fifteen feet away, four people are holding candles in silence.  Their mother is dying – on the other side of their window. 

The last time I’d hugged my Mom was in February when my sister and I took her for a morning adventure. We’d brought along her dog – the one soul she wanted to be with more than anyone.  With Impy in her lap, we’d driven through Dunkin Donut’s for coffee and then to a bakery where we bought everything that looked good. While Mom had difficulty remembering our names, she knew we were hers, and on that wonderful morning, as we enjoyed chocolate chip cookies and whoopie pies, there was a lot of laughter. 

The guillotine came down when COVID struck.  This zoonotic virus – something I was familiar with because of my work as an animal advocate, was a serious threat.  In this case, it was most likely transferred to people from sick, wild pangolins who were being brutally slaughtered in unsanitary conditions at a wet market in China.  To protect the vulnerable, Mom’s nursing home closed its doors to visitors.

In May, the virus entered the building.  We held our breath – worried for the safety of patients and the wonderful staff.  People died, staff became ill.  We were notified that one person in Mom’s unit tested positive but was quickly moved and quarantined.  By the end of June, the outbreak was under control but still, no visitors.

Months passed. Fall was bursting into color.  Mom had lost her last summer – locked in, without the sound of songbird, the smell of cut grass, or the warmth of the sun on her face.  

I was granted permission to see her outdoors on September 22nd, two days after her birthday.  I drove the five hours to New Hampshire a day early – going directly to the home.  I called the nurses station and one of the girls wheeled Mom into the sunroom, on the other side of the window.  I waved and instantly, she smiled.  I rolled my tongue (something she’d taught me to do as a child), and she rolled hers back.  She stuck hers out at me and I did the same.  I pretended I was a monkey and she laughed.  “It’s your birthday,” I yelled.  “I’m coming back tomorrow!  I’ll bring a cake!”  

That’s when my cell rang.  The news was grim. The virus was back in the building and was in Mom’s unit. My visit was cancelled.

The next day I drove back and peered in the window.  The sunroom and extending hall were empty.  I could only see a few people behind the desk of the nurse’s station at the end of the hallway.  The residents were in lockdown.  The brave front I’d put up since February disappeared.  I held on to the windowsill and sobbed, spilling the year of sadness, knowing there was more to come.

When I looked up, one of my favorite nurses was on the other side of the window.  Tears dropped from her eyes, wetting her mask.  “I’ll move your Mom to a room with a window. You’ll be able to see her whenever you want,” she said.  

What happened over the next fifteen days shattered me.  I’ll never be the same.

My mother’s name was Ann Clemons.  She was a happy person who found solace in nature, joy in playing the violin and banjo, and who had an uncanny ability to find four-leaf clovers in a patch of grass.   She instilled wisdom with short phrases and encouraged me to believe in myself.  She taught me how to use a chainsaw, drive a stick-shift, paint a room, and how to hook a car battery to a TV set to watch it. 

Her truth was transparent.  She was a nursing instructor.  She taught people how to save lives.  The coronavirus grabbed her in its undertow and swept her away.  Her death was horrific. She’d be really upset right now – not because she passed, but because so many good people have allowed themselves to be dumbed-down enough not to be exercising common sense.  She’d be disappointed they were allowing themselves to be led to their own demise (or that of someone they love) by not wearing a mask.  And she’d be angry for their lack of compassion for the nurses, doctors, aides, cleaners, teachers, business owners and others whose lives and livelihoods were being taken because of their selfishness.

I can hear my mother saying: It’s not rocket science, wearing a mask is just common sense.

The last words to my mother were delivered on a telephone held to her ear by a thoughtful nurse, just before she passed.  I asked Mom to join me for a walk down a pier where her father was waiting to take her for a sail on a day where the sunshine sparkled on the crest of the waves.  

Please allow me to offer a visualization for you.  Choose a person you love and imagine them in a bed on the other side of a double-glazed window. Their chest is heaving as they gasp for air like a fish out of water.  They’re on fire with fever and you are prevented from putting a cloth on their forehead, from holding their hand, from crawling into bed with them and holding them tight.  You are prevented from ushering your mother out with love – the way she brought you into the world.  And now imagine it’s your child, your sister, your best friend. 

My Mom had a few things she repeated throughout my childhood, to instill common sense.  Things like, “kill them with kindness,” when people were being mean.  I’ll leave you with another. The name has changed but you’ll get the drift.  Here it is:  “Just because Donny wants to jump off a bridge doesn’t mean you should.”  


I love you Mom.  I miss you terribly.


Ann Clemons
Ann Clemons and her daughter, Jennifer Skiff