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Remembering family members lost to COVID-19: ‘It’s a sad way to go’

  • Sheryl Sadler-Twyon holds a picture of her parents, Beverly Haskins Sadler and Clarence Sadler, in a Montague Center cemetery. Sadler-Twyon lost her mother to COVID-19. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Sheryl Sadler-Twyon at the grave of her parents, Beverly Haskins Sadler and Clarence Sadler, in a Montague Center cemetery. Sadler-Twyon lost her mother to COVID-19. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Sheryl Sadler-Twyon on the porch of her Montague Center home. Sadler-Twyon lost her mother, Beverly Haskins Sadler, to COVID-19. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • A photo of Beverly Haskins Sadler and her husband, Clarence Sadler, rests between their graves in a Montague Center cemetery. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 3/14/2021 3:16:37 PM

Editor’s Note: This story is the first in a week-long series honoring the one-year anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When Sheryl Sadler-Twyon talks about her 91-year-old mother who died of COVID-19 a year ago in late April, it’s mostly happy memories that flood her mind now.

Beverly “Betty” Haskins Sadler, a lifelong resident of Union Street in Montague, died on April 20, 2020, shortly after testing positive while a resident at Charlene Manor Extended Care in Greenfield.

“She had been at Charlene for 2½ years, admitted in October 2017,” Sadler-Twyon wept during a phone interview. “The staff was wonderful. They took such good care of her.”

Sadler-Twyon noticed her mother’s decline several weeks before she went to Charlene Manor.

“She was scared and didn’t want to be in the house she loved. She didn’t think it was her house,” she said. “When I’d see or talk with her — I live very close — she would say she wanted to go home.”

Sadler-Twyon called the doctor, and her mother was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection, something that can affect the elderly in an especially harsh way.

“She was in the hospital for a week,” she said. “She was paranoid, having hallucinations, delirium. They medicated her, but it took a long time to recover.”

Sadler, who her daughter described as loving life and family, lost her husband of more than 62 years, Clarence, in 2013 and her oldest son, Donald, in 2011, so it was her daughter, son-in-law and son, Robert, who were there for her in her last years.

After leaving the hospital, Sadler went to rehabilitation to continue her recovery. While at Linda Manor Extended Care Facility, she was recovering nicely. There was an incident her daughter said that concerned her, though.

“My dad had been a volunteer firefighter for 40 years, so we were used to drills and calls in the middle of the night,” she said. “Alarms were always going off at Linda Manor, and one time Mom must have thought it was a fire, because she got out of bed and was getting everyone else up to get them out of the building.”

By the time Sadler arrived at Charlene Manor, it was clear to everyone she needed long-term care. The medical staff there believed she had vascular dementia, and she was still recovering from the urinary tract infection — it would be another three weeks before she fully recovered.

“We knew that age was not on her side, but she lived a nice life there and I visited every day,” Sadler-Twyon said. “When I retired, I would go first thing in the morning, every day, and spend the entire day with her. I’d have meals with her, and sometimes just sit and talk, reminisce.”

On March 24, things changed forever. Charlene Manor closed its doors to visitors to protect its staff and residents. Even so, by mid-May, the nursing home had reported eight COVID-19-related deaths, including Sadler.

“March 24 was the last time I was able to hug her,” Sadler-Twyon said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be good. I knew it was the last time I’d be able to sit with Mom and hold her hand.”

Sadler-Twyon said it sounds weird, but she felt very lucky compared to others with loved ones living in the facility.

“I got to sit outside her window every day,” she said. “She was on the first floor, so that was possible. I’d call her on the phone from out there and she’d wave to me. I’d spend a good part of the day visiting her through glass. She was in a private room, but I was still so afraid she’d get COVID-19.”

Sadler-Twyon’s fears came true in early April. On Easter Sunday, April 12, the staff showed her photos of her mother decorating cookies, but the next day they called to say her mother had a fever.

“She had a temperature of 103,” Sadler-Twyon said. “Two days later, the test results came back positive for COVID-19. She was gone April 20. She didn’t have the breathing problems, but the rest of her body just shut down.”

When Sadler tested positive, hospice was called and the CNA she had for years sat with her, but Sadler-Twyon couldn’t be there, except to sit and watch her mother decline from the other side of her window.

“They did let my brother Rob and I sit with her for 15 minutes when it got close to the end,” she cried. “We were both in full PPE (personal protective equipment), including N95 masks, gloves, everything. We sat and just talked to her. I hope she heard us. No one should have to die alone.”

Sadler-Twyon and her brother left after their “too short” visit. Her mother’s CNA stayed until she died, holding her hand and stroking her hair.

“It’s a sad way to go,” Sadler-Twyon said. “This was a woman who loved her family, loved Cape Cod, where she and my dad owned a cottage for many, many years and we all spent lots of family time. ... Everything was about family for her, and at the end she couldn’t have family by her side.”

Sadler-Twyon said she is filled with happy memories of her mother at this point, but feels sorrow for so many people who couldn’t sit with their parents or loved ones for even 15 minutes at the end.

“So many people didn’t have access through all of this,” she said. “They had to know their loved one was dying and couldn’t do anything or be with them.

“This whole pandemic is still so difficult for me to wrap my head around,” she continued. “My mom was one of more than 500,000 people who died of the virus throughout the country. It’s unbelievable. And I can’t imagine what staffs like Charlene Manor’s went through. Our family members were like family to them, and they had to watch this day after day, person after person.”

Sadler-Twyon said her family still hasn’t been able to grieve together and have a “real” funeral.

“My brother, husband Jon and I were the only ones at Mom’s funeral,” she said. “We did our own little service with some nice readings. We played Johnny Mathis’ ‘The Twelfth of Never.’ We hope we can have a celebration of life this year. We’d hoped on the anniversary of her death, but if that can’t happen, maybe on her birthday in August.

“Mom told me during the last six months of her life that I had to be ‘the strong one now,’” she said. “I think she knew something would take her, never dreaming it would be a pandemic. I just hope others can be strong as they lose their loved ones in such a terrible way.”

‘He was such a happy person’

On the other side of the county, Carrie Collins lost her 73-year-old uncle, Ralph Bowers, to COVID-19. He was a resident of Quabbin Valley Healthcare in Athol.

“My mom and her brother, Ralph, had been living in the facility for a couple of years,” she said. “Before the pandemic hit, I’d go and visit regularly. After it closed its doors to visitors, I went over now and then to visit from outside.”

Collins said Bowers was mentally challenged and lived with her mother, Georgia, for most of his life, so she grew up with him.

“He was such a happy person,” she said. “He was a people person. When he moved into Quabbin Valley Healthcare, he thrived. He loved talking with the other residents. He’d go from room to room.”

When living with Collins’ mother, Bowers didn’t get out much, mostly to get a haircut, a scratch ticket or go to the doctor.

“It was a Sunday when he and my mom tested positive for COVID-19,” she said. “I worried about both of them but mostly my mom. She had a lot of underlying conditions. He was overweight, but didn’t have anything else wrong.”

Both were transferred to the facility’s COVID-19 unit to recover. Her mother recovered, but Bowers quickly took a turn for the worse.

“He was fine on Monday and Tuesday,” Collins said. “On Wednesday he started having trouble breathing. By Thursday morning, he wasn’t doing well. We couldn’t visit. We just had to wait for the good or bad news. It wasn’t good.”

Bowers died without family there on Christmas Eve 2020.

“It just added insult to injury,” Collins said.

On Jan. 7, Collins and her teenage daughter, Hannah Morton, tested positive. She said for her it was the “worst flu and cold” she’d ever experienced. Her daughter had a fever and cough she couldn’t shake.

“I was out of work for two weeks,” said the certified ophthalmic assistant. “During that time my dad tested positive. He ended up in the hospital. It attacked his heart. I think I actually got sicker with COVID because of all the worry.”

For her father, Mike Phillips, she said the virus ended up triggering congestive heart failure and he had pulmonary edema — excess fluid in the lungs.

“It was touch and go for a while, and I couldn’t be there with him,” she said. “It was so scary.”

Collins said she, her daughter and her parents still have coughs, but only memories of the worst.

“I think the biggest thing about this virus is the frustration and helplessness you feel when someone you love is sick and you can’t be with them,” she said. “You live in constant fear, but there’s nothing you can do.”

Collins said after having COVID-19 and worrying about her child and parents, and whether they’d pull through, it bothers her most to hear some people say it’s “not real.”

“It’s real,” she said. “I had it. People need to continue to wear masks and be respectful of others. You never know who you might infect. If it’s someone like Ralph, they’ll die. And believe me, you don’t want to lose a loved one to this.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.

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