That weekend, my husband and I were nestled on the couch, our eyes glued to the evening news. COVID-19 dominated all the headlines. Numbers of new cases, numbers of deaths. Pandemic safety measures. Grocery shortages and calls for ventilators.
One reporter stood outside a local hospital.
“The Beaumont Health System is caring for hundreds of confirmed coronavirus patients, with numbers climbing daily,” said the reporter. “Medical professionals are concerned about the decreasing number of beds.”
I stared at the TV screen with dull horror.
“Isn’t that our hospital?” my husband asked. “Where you’re going to deliver?”
I nodded mutely. On the TV, moody grey clouds hung over the hospital buildings. Except for the reporter on screen, the hospital looked mostly deserted.
Because nobody wants to go there right now. Unless they absolutely have to.
My doctor considered me to be a high-risk pregnancy. When my time came, I absolutely would have to be there.
“Well, considering how this pregnancy has gone so far," I said, "I guess this is just the grand finale.”
The pandemic hit my family quickly, and close to home.
That same weekend, my parents picked up my grandmother so she could stay with them during lockdown. That evening, Grandma played cards with my parents. They laughed and chatted together, before everyone retired for bed. My mom noticed Grandma was coughing a little.
The next day, Grandma was feeling worse, so my parents drove her to a nearby hospital. She was admitted there, and given a test for COVID-19. My parents were not allowed to stay with her.
On Sunday, March 29, the test results returned: Grandma had COVID-19. We couldn’t visit her, so a nurse gave my parents updates. Grandma had a phone in her hospital room, but she was too sick to answer.
On April 2, 2020, Grandma passed away from COVID-19. She was 88 years young. We didn’t get to be with her at the end, which still feels devastating. She was the matriarch of our large family. She had been there for her children and grandchildren on countless occasions. But COVID prevented us from being there with her during her final five days.
At least my parents got to be with Grandma, the Friday before all this happened, I thought numbly, as I scrolled through the tributes to Grandma on Facebook. At least she got to be with Mom, having fun, before COVID came.
The little one stirred about in my womb.
"Oh baby girl," I whispered, "you must come into this world soon, to bring us all some hope."
We couldn’t hold a funeral, only a visitation for 10 people. I was lucky enough to attend, but my parents couldn’t be there: they had COVID now, too.
My siblings and I checked on my parents anxiously, by phone and visits to my parents’ front porch. They were very sick, and it lasted a full three weeks. My sister and soon-to-be fiancé, who were staying with them, got sick with the virus as well.
Meanwhile at our house, my husband was adjusting to working from home full time as well as babysitting my son during my many prenatal appointments. Because of the early bleed and the placental lakes, my doctor had scheduled me for weekly ultrasounds and bi-weekly nonstress tests.
I had one such appointment the day after my grandmother’s visitation, Holy Thursday. I could see my husband was preoccupied, stressed, and not his normal, cheerful self. I felt apprehensive about leaving our young son alone with him, but I didn't know what else to do. What if something was wrong with the baby? Her due date was only two weeks away.
I left for my appointment, but when I came home, my husband was feeling worse. Thankfully, he had called a friend of ours, who came over to our house to help. This would have been fine during normal times. But we were in the middle of the pandemic, under stay-at-home orders. Nothing about this time was normal.
I jumped out of my car and headed straight for my husband.
“What’s going on?” I asked him.
“I didn’t know what to do, so I called Chris,” my husband gushed. He couldn’t stop pacing and adjusting his flimsy mask.
What is going on? I repeated in my mind.
When my husband went inside for a moment, I spoke with Chris.
“He isn’t feeling well,” he said. “I’ve seen this before. He needs medical help.”
I dug my fingers deeper into my coat pockets, huddled my shoulders together. My son ran up to me, so I lifted him up and held him close.
“What should we do?”
“Call 911,” Chris advised. “He needs to go to the hospital.”
My face tightened with anxiety. The hospital? Where all the COVID patients are waiting for treatment? How could that be the best option?
Like my character Fiona, I now faced an impossible choice.
“We can call 911,” I decided. “Let me go pack his hospital bag.”
Our friend Chris ended up driving my husband to the hospital that day.
Then the worst part began: the waiting. The waiting, knowing that my husband would spend the night alone in an ER bed, surrounded by dozens of COVID-19 patients, his room separated only by flimsy curtains. Protected only by the N-95 mask and hand sanitizer his mother had found for us.
It was evening now. In the past, I’d always made an elaborate meal on Holy Thursday: lamb, bread, potatoes, and asparagus for our “bitter herbs”. We’d have wine, too, and attend the liturgy at our parish.
This year, all I could scrape together was a pot of mac and cheese. Then the phone rang.
“Hey,” said Chris’s familiar voice. “We thought you might be hungry. Would you like some Arby’s?”
“Yes, thank you,” I stammered.
Until that moment, I’d felt isolated and alone. Abandoned. My extended family was in crisis. My husband was in the hospital with an undiagnosed condition. And if I went into labor now, I’d have to drive myself.
But then Chris and his wife arrived, with a roast beef sandwich and some curly fries. As I bit into the simple feast, tears filled my eyes.
I wasn’t really alone. God was still with me, through the extraordinary love and care of our friends.
The next day, during my son’s naptime, I got down on hands and knees and scrubbed the kitchen floor with Clorox wipes. Take that, COVID-19.
As I worked, I listened to the Good Friday liturgy on my laptop and meditated on the events of the last 24 hours. This year, we wouldn't just be reflecting on the Paschal Mystery of Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection. My husband and I were living it out:
On Holy Thursday, my husband was handed over by his friend at the hospital. Jesus spent Holy Thursday night in prison; my husband spent it in the ER.
On Holy Thursday and Good Friday, the Jewish and Roman authorities asked Jesus many questions. On Thursday and Friday, the hospital staff asked my husband questions, too, to make a diagnosis.
On Good Friday afternoon, Jesus was nailed to His cross. On Friday afternoon, my husband was transferred to another hospital across town. I couldn't visit him, or even call him, except for brief periods of time.
Later that day, my husband called. He’d seen the doctor, and gotten some medications he could start taking right away.
When it was time for us to hang up, I felt hopeful.
I can't help him, here at home. But he’s with the people who can help him.
After my son went to bed, my sister and brother-in-law did Facetime with me. My brother-in-law teased me about my gigantic belly, and my sister asked how I was doing at home alone. Talking to them made me feel...normal. Grounded. Although my entire life had been flipped upside down, I was still here, joking and chatting with good friends.
“How are you so calm, Mary?” my brother-in-law asked.
With a shrug, I settled down on the couch. “The Lord told me last April that this was going to be hard. And now, it’s hard.” I placed a hand over my baby bump. “Since I know this is God's plan, I figure He’s going to take care of everything.”
On Holy Saturday, my husband continued to heal.
My son and I kept busy at home: dyeing eggs, bringing out the Easter baskets, delivering Daddy's medicine to the hospital. It was a gorgeous blue sky day.
That night, I was once again on my hands and knees, listening to the Easter Vigil and picking up scraps of Easter grass. My hands shook with weariness, but my spirit soaked in the beauty and joy of the Vigil liturgy. Christ was risen, truly risen! My husband and I had died with Him, and oh, how I prayed we could also rise with Him!
"Please, Lord," I whispered. "Please bring our Daddy home."
The Easter bunny came the following morning, bringing treats and goodies of all kinds. My son delighted in hunting Easter eggs in the backyard.
Later, my husband called.
“Being here, away from home, has given me some perspective,” he said. “I’m feeling better already.”
The next day, Easter Monday, we picked him up from the hospital. He returned to us refreshed, refocused, and on the path to healing.
My heart, which had been left cold and empty as the Tomb all weekend, started to warm up again.
My husband is here now. I kissed him and held him close, breathed in his familiar scent. Everything is going to be okay.
Thank you for reading! Join me next Friday to hear the "grand finale" of Elizabeth's story. :)
About the Author
Mary Rose Kreger lives in the metro Detroit area with her family, where she writes fantasy tales for teens, and blogs about her spiritual journey: before, during, and after the convent. She also shares faith-based posts on her Instagram account, @faithandfantasy1.