“I’m not even looking forward to Christmas, I’m not.”
Kimberle Jones, 59, doesn’t mean to sound depressing. She says she’s not been herself lately.
“My son and my grandson say I’ve gotten mean. It’s true, I guess,” she said. “I know you’re not supposed to question God, but I feel cheated…this is not the life I pictured for myself.”
The American interviewed Jones in August, almost a month after her daughter, Erica Thompson, 37, passed away from COVID-19. Thompson was hospitalized for 50 days and died after the virus attacked her vital organs. She left behind three children Jones wants to raise in her home. That endeavor, she said, has only added to her grief.
COVID not only stole her only daughter, but it has also infected other aspects of her life. She said her circle of old friends has become distant. Her shopping buddy rarely picks her up for their usual trips to thrift shops. When she does come by, Jones said, she sits in the car and doesn’t come inside her home. Old friends, she added, treat her as if she contracted the disease.
“I guess a lot of it is a lack of understanding, but I’m vaccinated, I have the booster, I’m not contagious,” she said. “I just don’t understand it.”
Jones had no money to bury her daughter. Thompson had been separated from her children’s father for years when she passed away in July. She had no burial insurance. Jones is thankful her landlord loaned her almost $8,000 for the funeral expenses. She said he was only recently reimbursed, thanks to the government’s Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.
Jones went through the legal process to get foster care of her three grandchildren (ages 10, 12 and 18). She was only able to bring the eldest into her home with her own son of the same age. The birth father of the two youngest children chose to challenge her in court for custody. Not seeing her youngest grandchildren since her daughter’s funeral and worrying about how they’re coping only adds to Jones’ despair.
She works at one of BJC’s call centers. Less than two weeks after burying her daughter, a nasty fall in the kitchen left Jones incapacitated.
“I slipped on something, maybe ice. My leg went backward and crashed into the door. I saw the bone protruding through my skin,” Jones recalled. “No one was home, so I crawled to the front door and yelled for help. Thankfully, my neighbor heard me and called an ambulance.”
Jones has been off work ever since, drawing a meager $311 a week through disability. One third of that goes to her twice-weekly physical therapy co-pay payment. When she says “money has been tight,” Jones isn’t being overly dramatic.
“Thanksgiving was horrible. I had pre-ordered a turkey and sides and put the packages in the freezer. When I prepared to cook everything that day, I discovered the turkey wasn’t there, and it was too late to get another,” she said. “I just stayed in bed and cried all day.”
Jones said she has “good days and bad days.” Lately, however, she admits, the bad outweighs the good.
“With the holidays, everything’s really coming down on me hard,” she said.
Like the families of the almost 800,000 other COVID victims in America, the holidays can be a challenging time emotionally and spiritually. For Jones, Thanksgiving was a reminder her daughter wasn’t there to enjoy her mother’s dressing, “which she absolutely loved,” nor were her youngest grandchildren.
She expects Christmas to be no better.
“It was my daughter’s favorite holiday, and I’m missing her greatly,” Jones admitted. “It’s a culmination of things, really. Money is a bit scarce right now. I don’t even know what I’m going to cook. I already told the kids it’s going to be different this year.”
The sense of failure is overwhelming.
“As a race, I know we’re just supposed to make things happen, no matter what,” Jones said. “I take my responsibilities as a mother and grandmother seriously, but sometimes I feel inferior. I keep dwelling on the shoulda, woulda, couldas. But, deep down, I know I can’t keep letting these thoughts and feelings fester without addressing them.”
At a time that’s supposed to be about cheer and celebration, Jones is grappling with loss, grief, and depression instead. There’s no getting back to normal, she said, because COVID has introduced a new, unnatural, ongoing ‘normal’ in her life. At some point, she’s going to get counseling and welcomes the day when she’s not sad all the time.
“I’ve had circumstances placed in my life that are beyond my control. But I can’t be the only one going through this,” she said. “I would really like to know how other families deal with losing their kids and wanting to take care of their grandkids. I need help getting back to myself but, because of COVID, I don’t even know what ‘myself’ looks like anymore.”
Sylvester Brown Jr. is The St. Louis American’s inaugural Deaconess Fellow.