He was a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather: ‘That he had to die alone just breaks our hearts’
After 56 years of marriage, Janice and James Quigley would have no opportunity to console each other in his final days. No last squeezing of the hand or kiss on the forehead. No last look into each other’s eyes.
Janice Quigley, 76, ended her COVID-19 quarantine Wednesday, two weeks after testing positive for the illness.
On Thursday, she plans to bury her husband, James, 77, who died from the virus on March 27, just a week after being taken to Advocate Trinity Hospital by ambulance.
“The last time I saw him I knocked on the ambulance door to ask if I could follow him,” she said.
The answer was no, and that was that.
After 56 years of marriage that saw the couple raise six children in Annunciata Parish on the city’s Southeast Side, Janice and James Quigley would have no opportunity to console each other in his final days.
No last squeezing of the hand or kiss on the forehead. No last look into each other’s eyes.
For most people, the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has been at worst an economic crisis, a massive disruption of lifestyle and personal freedom.
Too often lost in the shuffle of the grim daily statistics are the names and faces of those directly affected. In those homes, the pandemic has meant death and pain.
The Quigley family has felt that pain.
And throughout the ordeal, the close-knit family has been forced like the rest of us to maintain a safe physical distance from each other, including from their mother as she battled the illness.
“The hardest part is not being with one another,” said Mary Kay Aitchison, 54, the Quigleys’ oldest daughter and a licensed clinical therapist from Oak Lawn.
Several times a day, the Quigley children took turns paying their mom a visit, she said, leaving food on the front stoop, then backing up to hold a conversation through the closed storm door at a distance.
They allowed themselves no hugs, not even after their father died. The only family get-togethers were online.
Janice Quigley, who works as senior liaison to Ald. Sue Sadlowski Garza (10th), is matter-of-fact about that part.
“You don’t want to give this to anybody. Nobody,” she told me by phone from her home, which is so close to the Indiana border that she can see the Hammond Horseshoe Casino from her window.
Home is where James Quigley, a retired truck driver, factory worker and funeral home attendant, fell ill on March 20. He had a history of respiratory problems, including COPD, and slept with an oxygen mask.
So when he told his wife he was having trouble breathing, they got ready to take him to their regular hospital in Munster. Then he said he didn’t think he could make it that far, and she called the ambulance.
The next day the nurse told her by phone her husband had a spot of fluid in his left lung and that he might have the coronavirus. A day later, the nurse said the lung was filled with fluid, and the day after that, she said he’d tested positive for COVID-19.
Janice Quigley’s doctor sent her to get tested, and she learned she had it, too.
She said she has no idea how they became infected.
“That’s the crazy part of this,” she said, noting that they hadn’t been out of the house in the eight days before her husband taking ill. “I can’t think of anything.”
Quigley told me she’d never shown any signs of the illness other than a cough, but Aitchison said her mother was running a slight fever, felt weak and wasn’t eating.
At one point after that day’s front porch checkup, her children were so worried they considered calling an ambulance for her, too, but she rebounded.
Her husband didn’t. When it became clear the end was near, he opted for in-hospital hospice care.
At that point, Aitchison and her brother Brian Quigley were allowed to visit their father at the hospital and watched through the glass window of his door as he waved and gave them the thumbs up.
Brian Quigley, an Evergreen Park electrician, spoke with his father by phone while standing outside the door.
“How’s your mom doing?” his father asked. “How’s everybody else?”
In a way, that made it worse for Aitchison, seeing him awake and alert and yet knowing he was dying.
“He was aware he was going to die. The fact that he had to die alone just breaks our hearts,” she said.
Yet her mother took comfort that her husband knew his children had been to see him.
She also tried speaking to him by phone but couldn’t make out what he was saying through the breathing equipment.
James Quigley is survived by five children: Michael, Mary Kay Aitchison, Brian, Michelle Starcevich and Patrick. Another son, James Jr., was an ironworker who died at age 37 in a construction accident. Thursday is the eighth anniversary of his death.
“I believe my father died a little bit when my brother died,” Aitchison said.
Yet before he contracted the coronavirus, James Quigley wasn’t expecting to die anytime soon.
He and his wife had obtained their passports for a planned family trip to Ireland next year. He still doted over his 16 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. And he still enjoyed a serving of “grandpa’s special water” — vodka on the rocks.
Janice Quigley never shed a tear as she told me her story.
Keep that in mind when you read that, as of Wednesday, Illinois now has 462 versions of her story.