She was a dóttir, a systir, a móðir, a frænka, a tengdamóðir, an amma, and most recently a langamma. She passed away peacefully in hospice this past week attended to lovingly by the caretakers at her board and care and regular visits by us, her closest family, and hospice services. She was my mother in law.
To say it has been difficult to have an elderly loved one in a care facility during COVID is to say very little. There is a LOT to say. But most of that I won’t say here-out of respect for family, my own sanity, and even of you, dear reader. She had been dealing with progressive COPD for several years now and had been on oxygen-first, as needed, but increasingly full time over the past year. We had finally gotten her to move from a difficult second floor apartment into a Senior Living apartment which was really nice and once there she enjoyed it. Unfortunately upon moving there, her disease advanced quite a bit, but it was much more comfortable for her there-yet still too far from us here in Long Beach. In February of this year she had an exacerbation of her COPD which required hospitalization and upon release it was decided she could no longer live on her own. (I had already been made her POA for both medical and financial affairs as her daughter lives in New Zealand, one son had passed away due to AIDS and the other one… well… she was more comfortable with me doing it. The rest of the family lives in Iceland.) Not living on her own was a great disappointment to this fiercely independent woman of 84 years. We had to rush to find a place for her and aside from the obvious requirements, it needed to be much closer to us than Burbank and the “dreaded drive” from Long Beach.
We settled on a place- all of them seemed imperfect to us but we went with intuition, picked one, and got lucky! The caregivers there were wonderful. We set up her room with some of her favorite things-mostly family photos and personal items and a giant map of Iceland.
Why Iceland, you may wonder. Well imagine a young girl of 18 or 19 in a small town outside of Reykjavik wondering about the world at large. Imagine a village of fishermen and their wives and families. Imagine Iceland in the 1940’s. Then move on to the 1950’s.
Sometime in the mid 1950’s young Iceland girls were meeting young US servicemen and many became brides and moved to the US. Such was the story of Jane (pronounced yawn-ee) Elvina and her sister Disa. They both had families and divorced with small children to care and provide for. They took this seriously and worked hard to do so. There were hardships, regrets, and other travails, but they carried on. The rest of the brothers (3) remained in Iceland, married, had children and were steadfast Icelanders. Elvina (as she preferred to be called as Americans just did not get the Icelandic pronunciation of Jane) enjoyed many visits to her homeland and regular visits from her Icelandic relatives and friends. I married and divorced (over 20 yrs ago) one of her sons and I always said that I gained a great MIL in the settlement. She loved her grandsons dearly and spent a lot of time with us creating beloved memories. Each of my sons traveled to Iceland with her to see her homeland and loved the experience. She also traveled to New Zealand many times to enjoy visits with her daughter, son in law, and her only granddaughter.
She loved to read, watch classic movies on TV, going to the movies, live music and theater, watching the Grammy’s, big band music, the crooners, decorating her Christmas tree, among many other things and of course, her family. She never drove- somewhat of a miracle for anyone having lived in the LA area for as long as she did. I always marveled at that! She worked for decades in a publication distribution center where she was a devoted employee and lived in the same upstairs apartment for over 50 years where she had raised her three kids as a single parent. She loved to cook (especially Italian food), travel with her brother Boi to Las vegas on his annual visits where they would dine finely and see live shows. For as long as I can remember, we always had hangikjöt (Icelandic smoked lamb) with boiled potatoes, peas and white sauce for Christmas Eve as was her tradition. Her Icelandic niece and sister-in-law were both flight attendants and made sure that she always received a special delivery via carry on in time for holiday celebrations.
We called her Amma-Icelandic for grandmother.
Having to move her to her board and care in early March was difficult enough. We had a couple of weeks where we were able to visit her and get her settled into her new surroundings. Then COVID happened. All visitation ground to a halt and we joined tens of thousands of families who could no longer see their loved ones in person. It was very concerning and stressful as in addition to her being a COPD hospice patient , she had developed severe aphasia and the only way we could communicate with her was through her iPad and occasional texting, a communication card and even that was beginning to fail us. It was extremely difficult for her and her caregivers as she knew what she wanted to communicate but it was so very difficult if not just impossible for her to do so. By late June we were able to resume visits following social distancing guidelines, but that didn’t last for long.
In July she had a fall and had to be moved to a rehab center for a few weeks where they had a massive outbreak of COVID due to the fact that weekly COVID test results of staff and patients were taking 10 days to come back (*%^&#@*%?) and by then the place had become a hotspot. I was getting auto calls telling me of the number of cases daily. Horrific! Fortunately she did not ever test positive for COVID. Itself a small miracle!
By the end of July we were able to get her moved back to the B&C but she was on a steady decline at this point. Since she was a hospice patient we were able to have more visitation and we did whatever we could to help her and the caregivers make her transition peaceful. Due to COVID however, her daughter and granddaughter in NZ and her Icelandic family could not travel to see her which was so very difficult for them. It was my job to keep everyone up to date with things, to follow her wishes regarding medical care, and keep her financial affairs in order. We will all need this help at some point and it’s an honor to have the complete trust of someone who needs this help. Everyone here pitched in to support this effort. and I am grateful.
The final weeks involved many hours of simple visits and just being present. Stitching became my passtime during these visits and most of the pieces I worked on were shibori pieces for my ongoing zoom workshop at the time. It was a peaceful and reflective time.
Her family looks forward to being able to travel once again and get together in person to celebrate her life. Takk og ást.
Blessaður Amma Elvina Jane, July 23,1936…September 28,2020