Nine days before Thanksgiving, Luke Fettig said goodbye to his grandmother.
Inside the hospital room where Sharon Carr had spent nearly three weeks on a ventilator fighting COVID-19, the attending nurse held up a radio as the medical team unhooked the 80-year-old’s breathing machine.
Carr became the 25th Montgomery County resident to die from the coronavirus — but she is not the only relative Fettig, 30, has lost to the pandemic. His mother, Dierdre, died in July.
The end of Dierdre’s short battle with COVID-19 came so quickly he wasn’t able to goodbye. Five months later, he was on the phone with his grandmother just before she was intubated.
“She wasn’t wearing her mask at [a church event], she thought she was OK because she was outside and six feet apart,” Fettig said. “The last thing she said to me on the phone besides, like, she loved me was she was sorry and she just didn’t think about it.
“It just didn’t cross her mind that it could happen to her.”
Since Carr’s death on Nov. 17, more than a thousand additional Montgomery County residents have tested positive for the virus, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.
Locally, November was the worst month for new coronavirus infections so far, but December is on track to be more dire. More cases were added in the first 10 days of December than the first six months of the pandemic combined.
Fettig’s family praises the frontline healthcare workers who treated his mother and grandmother and is thankful for the support they’ve received from loved ones.
“I hope that safety can also be contagious, and I hope that we can find a little more compassion,” he said. “A lot of people, you know, don’t think this is real until it hits their family, and then it’s too late.”
• • •
Dierdre, known to family and friends as Dee, owned and operated The Big Dipper for several years.
She sold the business to raise her children, according to her obituary, and later provided home care for seniors, including her mother who lost part of her arm in a car crash.
A kid needed a ride home? She’d give them a lift. Short on cash in the checkout line? She’d pay for your groceries.
Dee and her husband, Phil, who was born in France, had planned to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary there this summer. They met through Dee’s brother, one of Phil’s bandmates.
“My uncle kept trying to get my mom to meet up with my dad,” Fettig explained, “and she kept dodging him because she didn’t want to date any of her brother’s friends.”
Dee warmly embraced Phil’s heritage, visiting his family in France several times and whipping up special French dinners and desserts.
Fettig’s favorite meal was a Mississippi roast, and she made him an almond cake every year for his birthday.
She had traveled to Germany, Australia and Canada and enjoyed exploring the United States, including a family vacation to St. Augustine, Florida last year.
When the virus hit this spring, Dee recognized the threat, wore her mask and tried to limit her travels. After Phil’s 62nd birthday at the end of June, they visited Gatlinburg, Tennessee with another couple and self-quarantined for two weeks upon returning home.
Near the end of the quarantine, Dee texted her son to say she wasn’t feeling well. Her symptoms began with a bad headache, stomachache and some breathing problems. The couple decided to get tested for COVID-19 and Dee’s results came back positive.
“It’s hard to think about how they got [the virus] when they were careful, you know,” Fettig said, adding the couple that his parents vacationed with didn’t get sick.
As her symptoms worsened, Dee ended up in the hospital and was hooked up to a ventilator. By the time her family arrived, nurses had revived her twice. Phil signed a do not resuscitate order.
Since he’s at high-risk for contracting the virus, Fettig didn’t want to go on the COVID floor. His 26-year-old sister, Nikki, was allowed to sit in the unit’s waiting area but couldn’t go inside Dee’s room.
That left Phil, who received a positive test on the day his wife died but never showed any symptoms.
“If he hadn’t … been a positive patient, he wouldn’t have been able to go in the room at all to see my mom to say goodbye,” Fettig said.
Dee died on July 21. It had been just 11 days since she tested positive.
Dee’s funeral was held in early August, with the services livestreamed on the funeral home’s website for mourners who couldn’t attend in person.
“All the pictures, you know, it’s really hard seeing all those good memories flood back and then you’re just looking at the shell of the person you loved,” Luke said.
• • •
If you were young enough to be her grandchild, Carr was “Nana.”
Fettig spent summers with his cousins at the grandparents’ house, where their names were carved into the posts of the swingset Carr asked for as a Mother’s Day gift.
“It was a lot of love and that’s what hurts the most is all the love I’m missing out on,” Fettig said.
Before her retirement, she worked at local factories and fast food restaurants. She was a member of the Crescendos Chorus and Red Hat Society and was serious about her faith, regularly attending two churches. She was an avid viewer of “Days of Our Lives.”
Like her daughter, she enjoyed traveling. She once booked an excursion with a travel agency to Arizona, where she met another woman named Sharon and took in a hot air balloon festival.
In October, Carr went to a church event where Fettig said masks were not worn and one of the guests had tested positive for COVID-19.
Days later, Carr, who has an underlying lung condition, began experiencing a cough and shortness of breath. By the time she was hospitalized on Oct. 25, she required full-time oxygen and agreed to be hooked up to the ventilator.
“Her lungs just turned to cement,” Fettig said.
Due to the surge in cases, the immediate family held a closed funeral. Since then, Fettig, now in his fifth quarantine from possible exposure to the virus, says he’s tried to limit where he goes and uses grocery pickup.
He wants to see the government implement a full shutdown, pay people to stay home for six weeks, enforce mask mandates and pass a stimulus bill.
“I was worried enough before it took hold of my family and now that it’s done so much damage, it’s terrifying.”