'My mom was tough. COVID-19 was tougher.'

  • Julie Hanson and her son visit new grandma Geraldine Hanson on her 86th birthday in January.

    Julie Hanson and her son visit new grandma Geraldine Hanson on her 86th birthday in January. Courtesy of Julie N. Hanson

By Julie N. Hanson
Special to the Daily Herald
Updated 6/7/2020 8:26 AM
Editor's note: Before becoming a stay-at-home mom, Julie N. Hanson of Arlington Heights spent 20 years as a nurse. Her inspiration to take that career route was her mother. Geraldine Hanson, also of Arlington Heights, spent half a century as a nurse, caring for others. She officially retired in 2001 but still volunteered as a parish nurse. Geraldine died May 23, three weeks after having tested positive for COVID-19.
This is Julie's story, in her words.

My mom was a resident of the memory care unit at the Church Creek senior living facility in Arlington Heights.

She and my father were in a room together until my father died in November.


My mom was physically healthy, besides having Alzheimer's disease.

My wife and I adopted a baby from California and brought John Lagman Hanson home in January.

My mom was so excited about having a new grandson; it was a new lease on life for her after my father died.

When the nursing home started to restrict visitors at the beginning of March for safety reasons while I continued to visit her, I no longer brought the baby.

On March 13, when I was notified they were not going to allow any visitors on the unit, I begged the staff to bring her to the front lobby so I could explain to her myself why I wouldn't be visiting in person.

I gave her lots of hugs. She said she understood -- to the best of her ability.

She had been a nurse for almost 50 years, so I just told her, "You know we have to keep you healthy, we have to keep the baby healthy. I promise I will see you on the phone every day."

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My mom had a smile as wide as the sun. She was like sunshine on that unit. She "attended" the nurses meetings with the director of nursing, because that gave her a sense of purpose and familiarity.

Every day after that the director of nursing would FaceTime her with me.

Mom was so happy to see my face and to see the baby. We also did visits at her window, which she loved.

During one of the FaceTime calls at the end of April, I told the staff she didn't look right. They got her up and walked her and said she was just tired.

The next day, April 28, I got a call that she was very, very sick. I asked them to move her bed right in front of the window so that I could see her. I visited her at her window every day. On April 28, they tested her for COVID-19. Over the next four days it was touch and go. We thought we were going to lose her. On May 3 we learned she had tested positive.


It seemed like she started to get a little better. She hadn't had the horrible respiratory symptoms but rather neurological ones: fatigue, vascular changes, increased confusion.

For the next several days she seemed to rally. She was walking a little bit more when she would see me at the window.

She was concerned that I was cold.

She wanted to hug me and hold the baby. It was very encouraging, and she appeared to be getting better.

At the same time I knew COVID-19 is insidious and symptoms can come back in devastating fashion.

On May 14 she had a really good day, alert and smiling at me a lot.

The next day I could see she wasn't swallowing. I was told she hadn't been eating or talking much and was more lethargic.

A day later the nurse contacted hospice and they started her on a regimen of morphine and Ativan, which are given to people who are actively dying.

But she hung on until May 23.

Mom had been a nurse for 45 years. In the early '60s she had been a captain in the Air Force. She did triage nursing during the Berlin Airlift.

She was a ray of sunshine, a loving mother and grandma. She spread joy wherever she went.

She was so happy about having a new grandchild. She was full of life.

She was not a statistic.

My mom was tough.

COVID-19 was tougher.

The last time I was able to hug my mother was March 13.

For the last week, I camped outside her room; I slept in the car and was at her window constantly.

My brother and I sang her favorite hymns to her. I said prayers to her. All through her window.

My wife gave her last rites through the window. My brother in Colorado said goodbye to his mother via FaceTime.

My mom was always so worried about being alone. I appeared at her window every day and repeated, "You're not alone. You're not alone."

I told the nurses and aides, "You have to be my hands."

And they were. They were amazing and gentle and loving.

They would reassure her, "Your daughter is here, your daughter loves you, your family loves you."

But she could not feel my touch. Even after she died, I could not touch her.

Out of thousands and thousands of tragedies borne out of this pandemic, this is my mother's tragedy. My mother, who so gently and lovingly touched me, who had boundless love and optimism and compassion, could not feel her daughter's touch as she lay dying.

Geraldine Helen Hendrickson Hanson died at 86 years old. But she had so much life left to live.

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