‘Not hugging, but we’re there’: Mourning husband, father who died of COVID-19

CEDAR SPRINGS, Mich. (WOOD) — Six feet apart and full of sorrow, the Stephens family sat in the driveway of their Rockford home, grieving the loss of a loved one who died from COVID-19.  

“We sit in the driveway,” Jeannie Stephens-Dood said. “Of course, we’re far apart, we’re not hugging. But we’re there.” 

James Stephens’ family sits several feet apart from one another as they mourn his death. (April 9, 2020)

The family’s patriarch James Stephens, 84, died from coronavirus Friday. He had been diagnosed only five days earlier.

Stephens had been a resident at the Metron of Cedar Springs nursing home for about a year when he became one of the 31 patients there to test positive for the virus. News 8 confirmed Thursday that six of those patients have died.  

“Honestly, I have to say that our worst fear was realized,” Dood, Stephens’ youngest daughter, said about her father contracting the virus.  

Dood described her father as a quiet but devoted man. 

“He was a machinist,” she said. “He actually had one job his whole life. He worked there over 50 years.” 

 Stephens was a father to nine. The family said his passing has been hardest on Jeanne, his wife of 63 years.  

“She was devoted to him every single day,” Dood said of her mother. “There was not a day that she did not go there and sit with him and hold his hand.” 

Hand in hand, the couple went through life together until coronavirus made them part.  

“He always loved to hold her hand,” Stephens’ daughter Jennifer Smith said. “She would go see him and they always held hands.” 

james stephens
James Stephens holds hands with his wife Jeanne. (Courtesy)

Like most victims of the virus, Stephens died in quarantine. Pressed against the nursing home window, his family said their final goodbyes.  

“She had to go see him through the window and he opened his eyes and she said he raised his hand to her like he wanted to hold her hand and it was just heartbreaking that she couldn’t touch him,” Smith said. 

The grief-stricken family knows they are not alone in experiencing this kind of unprecedented pain. The pandemic continues to take lives every day. 

Back at their Rockford home, the Stephens practice strict social distancing in effort to slow the spread of the virus and protect themselves from becoming ill, especially when it comes to their 82-year-old mother.  

“Trying to grieve and work through it when you can’t be with them,” Smith said. “You can’t touch them at a time when my mom needs her kids around her and we can’t even be there like we want to be.” 

For now, the family will make do as loved ones find new ways to show their local and support from a distance.  

The family plans to hold a celebration of life for Stephens once the pandemic is over. In the meantime, they are thankful to the nursing home staff for going above and beyond in their care until the very end.  

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