Jeanette Ho Shin Weddell died less than a month after her 96th birthday. An energetic grandmother who’d been an avid golfer and gardener, she is one of more than half a million people in the United States lost to COVID-19.
“She died Dec 29th,” wrote Marysville’s Lauri Howat, Weddell’s granddaughter, in a tribute sent to The Daily Herald. “We never knew if she heard us or knew we were there. We’d like to think so.”
On Monday at the White House, President Joe Biden observed a moment of silence in recognition of U.S. coronavirus deaths reaching 500,000. He spoke of grief, and of individuals taken by the virus: “We often hear people described as ‘ordinary Americans.’ There’s no such thing; there’s nothing ordinary about them,” he said. “The people we lost were extraordinary. They spanned generations.”
By Thursday, The New York Times reported this country’s toll had risen to 505,642.
Howat described her grandmother as “healthy for her age” before getting the virus.
Raised in Hawaii, her family had come from the Korean Peninsula when she was a child. Part of the World War II generation, she met her future husband, Raymond Weddell, in Hawaii. An article from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, dated Dec. 7, 1946, listed Raymond L. Weddell as one of about 200 civilian workers who had been at Hickam Field, the U.S. Army airfield on Oahu, in 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Howat said her mother, Peggy Weddell, was born in Hawaii.
In their later years, Jeanette and Raymond Weddell lived near Palm Springs, California. They golfed every day “in matching outfits,” Howat said. Jeannette Weddell passed her love of gardening along to her granddaughter. She moved to Marysville in 2008 after her husband died.
She lived just down the street from Howat, in an adult family home with several others. Howat said she hadn’t visited Weddell in several months, “thinking I was keeping her safe.” Her family, she said, believed the adult family home “was taking all the precautions.” They later learned that two non-staff aides had been helping at the care home, said Howat, who thinks that’s likely how the virus was introduced there.
Just days before Christmas, Howat said, her grandmother’s roommate had a stroke. At the hospital, the roommate tested positive for COVID-19. And on Christmas Day, Weddell was rushed to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. She, too, had been stricken by the virus. Her blood oxygen levels were dangerously low, Howat said.
Howat works at, but not for, Providence hospital, and her daughter is a nurse there. She recalled how tough it was for loved ones to visit what she called the hospital’s “COVID floor.”
“The rules are hard when you are told the person you love the most in this world is dying and only one person can see them at a time and the rest must wait in the car,” she wrote. “I understand it’s COVID, but on the other hand you don’t want someone you love to die alone, and you want to see them, if nothing else, to just sit next to them.”
Biden, who lost his first wife and a daughter in a 1972 car crash, and his son, Beau, to cancer in 2015, made reference to his grief in Monday’s comments: “For the loved ones left behind, I know all too well.” He spoke of the pandemic limiting how families can “properly mourn.”
“So many of the rituals that help us cope, that help us honor those we loved, haven’t been available to us,” Biden said.
Everett’s Barb Lark lost her mother last year, but not from COVID-19. Limits on gatherings affected the way Lark’s family was able to honor her mother. Lorna Parker, 89, had dementia and was on hospice care for several months before she died on June 19, 2020, Lark said.
Before COVID restrictions, Lark often visited Parker at the adult family home where she lived in Everett’s Valley View area. As Parker neared the end of life, Lark was allowed to visit in her room while wearing a mask and gloves. Other relatives sent videos or had FaceTime visits.
Knowing her mother’s wishes — for a memorial service in her church — Lark and her family arranged the next best thing. They planned a Zoom memorial for a woman of deep faith.
The technological know-how of younger relatives and help from Westminster Presbyterian Church brought it all together — music, prayers, scripture and remembrances. A sermon by Fred Zoeller, a pastor from the Everett church, was delivered from the pulpit and included on video.
Lark, who emailed invitations, said about 150 people logged into the service from as far away as Texas. More than half stayed online afterwards for a “coffee time” reception.
“My mom loved her Starbucks coffee,” Lark said. “Surprisingly, I felt our online service was every bit as honoring as an in-person event would have been.”
Parker, whose maiden name was Sales, lived all her life in Everett. She attended Rosehill School and Everett High. For years, she worked at the J.C. Penney store downtown.
Biden asked Americans to remember those we’ve lost, and to remain vigilant — “to stay socially distanced, to mask up, get vaccinated when it’s your turn.” With her grandmother ever in her heart, Howat is also a champion of COVID precautions.
“Once you watch someone you love die with this awful sickness, you’ll do anything to not get sick and keep other people from getting sick too,” she said.
Julie Muhlstein: firstname.lastname@example.org