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Saying Goodbye To A Loved One From A Distance


One of the more painful realities of this coronavirus pandemic is what happens to people who die in hospitals. Many die alone, apart from their families and loved ones, because they've been kept out of the hospital for their own safety. As the number of deaths increase across the United States, we're going to hear how one family is navigating this terrible experience. Elana Kuperstein lost her husband, Isaiah Kuperstein, to COVID-19, and she's joining us with her son, Adam Kuperstein, from Indianapolis, Ind.

Elana and Adam, we're so sorry to have to have this conversation with you. I'm sure it's a really tough time, and we very much appreciate your willingness to share your story.


ADAM KUPERSTEIN: You're welcome. We just hope it helps other people. We know they're struggling with the same thing.

GJELTEN: Elana, I understand you were married for 43 years. Can you tell us a little bit about your husband?

E KUPERSTEIN: There is so much to tell. He had a very strong personality. Anybody who would meet him remembers him almost like a force of nature. He was very loving, was never afraid to express his love to me and to his boy. And on a personal note, he was really the best thing that happened in my life. And I always relied on him.

GJELTEN: Again, we're so sorry for what you've gone through. Adam, I know you're there with your mom now, but you live in New York City. Can you tell us what it was like to hear that your father was sick with COVID-19 when you were so far away from Indiana?

A KUPERSTEIN: It was painful because I knew that I couldn't go there and be by his side. I was essentially trapped in New York City, where I too was reporting on this crisis in my job as a TV news reporter, and so I also knew the gravity of it.

So I think it made it hard because I was worried the second that I knew he even went to the hospital. Even though he was positive and optimistic and he said he was fine, I feel like because I was listening to those sirens race by my window in New York City at the epicenter of this, I think it just worried me even more knowing what could happen.

GJELTEN: Elana, you said you were unprepared for this. Was your husband relatively healthy when he got sick? And, you know, what were those first days like when he was still at home with you?

E KUPERSTEIN: In the first days when he was home with me, he just had some stomach, GI issues. At first, he didn't have temperature. Then the temperature got higher. And then finally, it was high enough that we were able to get a test. But - I was cautious, but he didn't have any breathing or respiratory symptoms, so that somehow gave us a little hope.

But by lunch, we took the test they sent us from there right to the emergency room even though the result was not in, but they could X-ray his lung. He was dehydrated by then. So, you know, it is difficult because you couldn't go in with him, and he was - you know, it's hard to describe because you don't believe - you never think it's going to happen to you.

GJELTEN: And, Elana, was there anyone at the hospital who was able to connect you with him right up until the time that he passed?

E KUPERSTEIN: The first two days, he was in a regular hospital, and he was still speaking on the cellphone. But once he was placed on a ventilator, when his oxygen numbers became worse, and then when that happened in the ICU, they - he was intubated, and we were not able to talk to him at all. And after that, there were eight days where I was only communicating with his nurse, ICU nurse, and the attending doctor.

But then when it got very difficult, it affected his kidneys. Then everything became very serious. And it was so hard for me to even talk to the nurse. When they would call me, I would ask them to wait, and I would put Adam on the phone just so that I would be able to have both of us on the phone for support because I couldn't. I felt bad for the doctor at the end when they had to tell me, you know, how serious and where it's going. They had trouble saying that. They said they'd never experienced having to say things like this over the phone and not face-to-face. And, you know, as difficult as it was for me, I feel bad for them. You know, they're risking themselves every time. And then they have to tell people news like this over the phone. And it's...


E KUPERSTEIN: ...It was not - you know, none of it was the way it's supposed to be.

GJELTEN: No. And, Adam, you were able to leave New York and join your mother there in Indianapolis. And I understand you actually celebrated Passover together this past week.

A KUPERSTEIN: Yeah. It wasn't the Passover we planned. We had plans to go to Florida. And my dad - my father was the Passover Seder leader every year. It was his favorite holiday. Instead, I drove across - halfway across the country with my three children and my wife. And we tried to do the Passover Seder the best we could. But my mom tested positive, too. And luckily, she's healthy, and she's feeling great. But at the time, she still wasn't cleared, so we had to distance from my own mother at an outdoor Passover Seder.

But, you know, I know my dad would have been proud at how hard we tried. It was crazy. I can't even imagine - you know, now we all know that that's what you have to do. But if someone would've told me that that's how we're going to have Passover, I never would have believed it.

GJELTEN: That was Adam and Elana Kuperstein speaking to us about their husband and father, Isaiah Kuperstein, who passed away from COVID-19.

Elana and Adam, thank you so much for sharing your story. And again, we're so sorry for what you've been through.

A KUPERSTEIN: Thank you.

E KUPERSTEIN: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL TEN ELEVEN'S "MY ONLY SWERVING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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