When COVID-19 strikes home

By: Lillee Gelinas, MSN, RN, CPPS, FAAN Editor-in-Chief

My personal story

The pandemic’s impact on frontline caregivers has captured headlines and hearts for months. I read as many as I can to understand how others manage it all, because six members of my family contracted COVID-19.

My journey began in April 2020 when one of my sisters, who’s an RN, tested positive. She had symptoms for several days, returned to work after the quarantine period, and was among the first healthcare workers to get vaccinated. Her daughter, who teaches elementary school, tested positive and had to eliminate contact with her students for several months.

My brother is a sports official who tested positive after coming in contact with a team of several players who tested positive. He managed his symptoms and stayed in quarantine. His situation was complicated by a cancer diagnosis, and he can’t get vaccinated for at least a year.

Then another sister and her husband contracted the virus. My brother-in-law is a home health occupational therapist. We suspect he became infected by one of his patients and passed it to my sister. My sister, who’s a teacher, taught remotely for quite some time. Both eventually returned to work.

The family stress was over the top, and we were praying that family infections would cease. But the story gets worse. My 98-year-old mother has lived with one of my sisters and her husband for 30 years. Days before they tested positive, they moved her into a senior residential care facility so she could receive more consistent care for several challenging conditions. My mother received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine but tested positive a few days later and was isolated in her room to protect other residents. A week later, she was admitted to the COVID-19 ICU at a local hospital with pneumonia and other virus complications. I wasn’t able to see her in person, and she passed away on one of her favorite holidays, Mardi Gras. My last words with her were via Zoom.

My own COVID-19 challenges aren’t the result of a “super spreader” family event, but from the day-to-day work that characterizes the commitment of nurses, teachers, and caregivers. Similar to many of you, I’ve felt the kaleidoscope of fears, tears, and concerns as we tried to meet the uncertainties of how the virus will affect our short- and long-term health and careers. How will we ensure that other family members stay safe? With two nurses in the family, we try to balance the issues we face at work with the issues we face taking care of our families, hoping and praying no one else gets sick.

My family’s story didn’t have to happen to make me appreciate and respect what every nurse has been experiencing for more than a year, but it has certainly increased my empathy level. To all of the nursing heroes on the frontline who made a difference caring for my family, in the words of my mother, “I am eternally grateful.” I miss her so much.

ringing new year lillee signature



Lillee Gelinas, MSN, RN, CPPS, FAAN


For insights into caring for yourself and others, read “Caring during COVID-19” at myamericannurse.com/caring-during-covid19/.

5 Comments. Leave new

  • To those untouched by COVID it seems like nothing, a cold. But this invisible enemy has affected so many families in so many ways. A friend’s son lay in ICU on a vent when I spoke to him one day. He was 50 this son, in good health otherwise, a business owner, family man, a man loved by the community. I had just had my antibodies checked after my own bout of COVID. I offered to do a direct donation of antibodies if they would do it and if it might help. This was a new idea then. My friend made calls, but they said no. He died a few days later. My friend had done so much for my own son. How I wish I could have saved his! Another coworker’s mother died- she was 70 and in great health previously. My own family recovered though it took several months of respiratory therapy for my son and I to feel normal. We both have asthma. I am sorry for your loss and the loss of so many other loved ones. I feel lucky to be alive.

  • Maria Murray
    April 20, 2021 2:45 pm

    My condolences Lillee on the loss of your Mom and am saddened by the pain and turmoil your family has endured this past year, not unlike many others. The difference is when it’s close to home the stress levels certainly increase. I’m glad however, that neither you nor Marc succumbed to this awful virus and pray your family continues in their road to recovery and wellness very soon.

  • Lillee – thanks for sharing this story. It reflects the pain that so many families have experienced during this pandemic.

  • Angie Bidleman
    April 16, 2021 2:38 pm

    So many thoughts and prayers for you and your family. Covid 19 was so harrowing by for so many in healthcare. Heroes touched by so much death and compassion that overflows. I didn’t have family who died but I did stand in for so many families who couldn’t be there to say goodbye to their loved ones due to rules and regulations made by the government. I am sorry you couldn’t be there with your mom. I pray peace over you today and tomorrow.

  • Oh Lillee! I am so sorry for all your family has endured during this horrific pandemic! I’m especially saddened that your mom succumbed after such a long and vibrant life!
    My family has had a similar experience. With three nurses, physician assistant and several other essential workers out there maintaining the rest of us, numerous positive outcomes resulted. Of these, my parents (86 & 85) contracted the illness and fortunately were able to receive monoclonal antibody infusions and are now fully vaccinated. Having knowledge advocates at times like this make all the difference in the world! We are blessed!

    Stay well Lillee and thank you for sharing your personal journey as always!


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