Losing my grandfather to COVID-19

Kaylee Cibrian is a freshman communications major.

Cibrian’s grandfather with her (right) and her older sister (left) in 2005. PHOTOS COURTESY OF KAYLEE CIBRIAN

In the wake of the pandemic, my family was a high-risk household, to say the least. Because we have always been well acquainted with illness, we knew the coronavirus would have a greater impact on our lives than most. I live in a household of eight, which consists of my parents, my mother’s parents, three younger siblings, and myself. What concerned me was two of my siblings’ underlying medical conditions — my 16-year-old brother being a Type 1 diabetic and an asthmatic, and my 14-year-old sister having arthritis. My grandparents, who live with us, also have underlying conditions. My grandma was recently diagnosed with lymphoma, and my grandpa also suffered from diabetes. As you can imagine, my family took the pandemic pretty seriously from the very beginning. Yet, our house was still hit with COVID-19.

Sheltering in place wasn’t hard for my family, since we are all extremely close and felt we were the only people we needed during times like these. During quarantine, my parents and grandparents still went out to work every day, while I held down the fort with my siblings. As the days turned into weeks and months, our newly adapted routine took a drastic turn. In order to receive radiation for her lymphoma at an appointment in June, my grandma was routinely tested for COVID-19, when she, out of nowhere, tested positive. 

The house suddenly entered into a panic. My worst fears about the virus had become realized — my anxiety and uncertainty were realized in my grandma’s positive test result. Then, our loving house was divided. Everyone was ordered to their rooms to self-isolate completely, and, when no one manifested symptoms during our period of quarantine, we felt relieved. However, that relief was short-lived. We still don’t know how my grandparents contracted COVID-19, or how it ended up in our home, but, while my grandma got better, my grandpa suddenly fell extremely ill. My papa’s health continued to rapidly decline, and he was soon admitted to the hospital. After an excruciating month-long fight, he finally succumbed to COVID-19 and passed away.

I never imagined losing my grandfather in such an unfair and painful way. No one was allowed to visit him while he was in the hospital, not even my grandma who had been married to him for 43 years. This didn’t stop us from FaceTiming him every day, even in his final days when he went into a coma. But, of it all, the funeral was the most devastating part.

When a loved one dies, sometimes holding a memorial service is one of the best ways we know how to grieve. But a funeral in the middle of a pandemic is not nearly as consolatory as it should be. I knew there would be safety regulations in place at my papa’s funeral, but a rented-out church at 25% occupancy with socially distanced mask-wearing hiding our sorrow was a first. But, this is just how funerals look right now — you want to hug the widow or relatives who drive up but can’t.

My papa was my lifelong inspiration, friend, and mentor. Returning to college at 55 to finish his undergraduate and pursue a master’s degree, he worked tirelessly to be able to pursue his passion: working as a therapist for foster children struggling with the transitional period coming out of foster care, as well as being a marriage counselor at his church. He’s the reason I feel driven to still pursue my college education as a second-generation college student, even though my experience is taking place during a pandemic. I hope I can make as meaningful a contribution with who I become with my education. 

I have never been forced to handle as much sorrow or pain in my life as when I lost my grandfather to COVID-19. Even though I have been deeply religious all of my life, my grandfather’s unfair passing caused me to question my faith. My papa was the most devout believer in God I had ever known, and I felt cheated by his death. As I reflect on his passing now that it is months later, I have finally come to terms with what happened, but only after waves of poor mental health and mourning. I think about my papa’s passing every day. While the pandemic has taken something from each of us, I encourage you to take this opportunity to show gratitude for the loved ones we still have in our lives.

Do you have a personal story from this quarantine that you’d like to share? Email opinion@sffoghorn.com.

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