Gilby woman grieves grandmother who is among ND's 31 COVID-19 deaths
Grieving is hard. Grieving alone is even harder.
Erin Dickson knows that all too well because her grandmother, Angela Jarolimek, died of COVID-19 on Tuesday, May 5, in a Fargo long-term care facility. Dickson, of Gilby, N.D., and her family not only couldn’t visit the 97-year-old family matriarch in her final days, but they also couldn’t -- and still can’t -- comfort each other after she died.
Dickson, knowing that her grandmother’s health had been declining in recent years, tried to prepare herself emotionally for Jarolimek’s death. But what she pictured in her mind was nothing like the reality of her death in pandemic times.
Jarolimek’s family was notified by the nursing home over the weekend of May 1 that Jarolimek had tested positive for COVID-19 and was seriously ill, Dickson said.
“In a normal world, when somebody is dying, you would go visit and take turns sitting with them,” she said. Instead, on Monday, May 4, the family stood outside the window where they saw a frail woman, with labored breathing, whom they barely recognized because she had lost so much weight.
“Knowing that she was in her final hours and we couldn’t be there was hard to grasp,” Dickson said. “You just feel like someone should have been there with her.”
Jarolimek is among the 31 deaths in North Dakota associated with coronavirus, and one of 1,371 cases of the disease overall in the state. In Minnesota, the toll is 508 deaths and 9,365 cases overall. In North Dakota 601 have recovered from the virus; in Minnesota, 5,300 have recovered.
It’s been an emotional few days, Dickson said, as the pandemic hit home for the family.
“As you prepare for this, you’re thinking we’ll all be together; that’s a true celebration and we can turn the sadness into a positive. That’s what Grandma would love.
“You’re left to say ‘OK, how can we still have a tribute to this special, wonderful woman in this new environment we’ve been put in?” Dickson said.
Jarolimek’s family hasn’t yet figured that out. But Dickson has no doubts about the love her grandmother had for the family. Jarolimek made everyone feel like each family member was special, Dickson said.
“My siblings and I were just talking about the way she made you feel totally irreplaceable. She was the one person in your life you could always count on to make you feel good,” Dickson recalled. ”She was amazing because she was everyone’s cheerleader. She wanted to do the best for everyone."
One way Jarolimek expressed her love for her family was by cooking.
“She made homemade bread. She made cookies. She made kolache.”
Jarolimek had two freezers in the dining room of her tiny Veseleyville, N.D. home, which were filled with goodies, including apple pies.
“We would make them for after-school snacks because her pies were so stinkin’ good,” Dickson said.
Though the coronavirus pandemic has made Jarolimek’s death more difficult to process, Dickson believes that in time, the memories of her grandmother's life -- not the way she died -- will stay with her.
“I have so many fabulous memories. I feel so fortunate to have witnessed that life,” Dickson said.
In a memory book, Jarolimek answered a question about what advice she would give her grandchildren. The answer: “Love hard, work hard. The rest will fall into place. God Bless,” Dickson said.
“What can I do going forward to be more like my grandma?” she asked.