As my grandma lay dying, I could not hug her or hold her hand. But I will honor her memory with my vote on Nov. 3

My mother held a sign outside Grandma’s window that read “Love you.”

SHARE As my grandma lay dying, I could not hug her or hold her hand. But I will honor her memory with my vote on Nov. 3
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Ruth G. Johnston, shown here with her grandson John H. Hageman, died on April 2 from COVID-19.

Photo provided by John H. Hageman

I woke up on Thursday, March 26, in Chicago. We had been under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order for nearly a week.

Other than to buy groceries, I had left my apartment only for short walks, eager for warm weather as Chicago’s winter finally began to fade. That day, Mayor Lori Lightfoot shut down Chicago’s lakefront because folks couldn’t seem to follow the rules. It felt like the teacher cancelling recess because of those two kids who just won’t listen.

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My days during the first week of stay-at-home had all been much of the same — work from home, exercise when I remembered, take in too much news (and wine) and slowly get through the unread books on my bookshelf. I had started writing “read during the COVID-19 pandemic” in the back of the books that I finished, thinking about the conversations I might have one day with my future children and grandchildren.

Video conversations with my family and friends were bright spots during a gloomy time.

But that Thursday was different. I woke up to a text from my sister saying there was a COVID-19 case at our grandma’s long-term care facility in Flossmoor. My siblings and I, spread across the country from Denver to New York, video-chatted, and then we talked with our mom. We were worried, unsure of what to do or how to react.

I thought about going up to Evanston to see my mother, but my fear of possibly exposing her to COVID-19, though I exhibited no symptoms, overwhelmed me. After all, I had been on airplanes less than two weeks before. The world had changed so dramatically.

My 90-year-old grandmother, who was immunocompromised, was experiencing shortness of breath that day. My mom drove down to Flossmoor and stood outside my grandmother’s window. She held up a sign that read “Love you.” Like me, my mother couldn’t physically be with her mother that day.

As my siblings and I talked with our mom over the phone, we heard the siren of an ambulance growing closer and louder. The louder it got, the more I knew the ambulance was coming for my grandma.

My grandma was admitted to the hospital with atrial fibrillation and low potassium, and she was tested for COVID-19. Not allowed inside the hospital, my mom sat in the parking lot as rain poured down, staring at a single-wide trailer being used to process emergency room admissions as she texted updates to my siblings and me.

The next day, I learned that my grandma had tested positive for COVID-19. I talked to her over the phone while she laid in bed without family by her side. She told me how proud she was of me and to keep doing good in the world. I told her how much I loved her and that I would continue to do my best to make the world a better place. A feeling that this would be our last conversation hung over me as tears filled my eyes.

On April 2, I learned that feeling was right. My mom called to tell me that my grandma had passed away. I am so thankful that my mom was able, eventually, to physically be with grandma before she passed, and that members of the family near and far were able to speak with her over the phone.

I know my story is like so many others. Loved ones suffering, families unable to physically be with one another. We can’t hug the people we love, can’t hold their hand in silence, can’t kiss them on the cheek.

The lucky among us get to say “I love you” over the phone; others will never have that opportunity, never get to say goodbye.

While I hope the federal government does all it can to combat this crisis, there is no doubt in my mind that President Trump’s lack of preparedness, competency, urgency and empathy has caused pain and suffering for my family and for families across the country. The tears that filled my eyes after talking to my grandma for the last time reflected that pain and suffering.

I am rooting for our country, but the president’s poor response to the coronavirus has motivated me to double my efforts to see that he and all those who enable him are voted out of office come November.

On March 27, less than one week before she died from COVID19, my grandma — Ruth G. Johnston — told me to keep doing good in the world. Well, that’s exactly what I plan to do.

See you in November, Mr. President.

John H. Hageman lives in Chicago and does financial and organizational restructuring work, particularly in the public sector.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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