Dawn Morehouse entered the hospital room and sat down beside a patient suffering from COVID. His chest X-rays showed his accompanying pneumonia was spreading and his oxygen levels were dropping so low he would soon require intubation. Knowing this, the patient said he decided to discontinue treatment.
As a Memorial Hospital chaplain, Dawn assured the patient that she understood his wishes. She could see he had thought things through, and she could tell that God had spoken to him. But as his daughter-in-law, her heart was breaking as she listened to Dain Morehouse express his final wishes.
“It hit me last night. I don’t want people to feel sad when they see me,” the 78-year-old explained at the two-week mark of being sick. “I want them to remember me as a person who had joy and laughter.”
Dain knew he was not guaranteed to survive COVID, and that if he did, it could mean months in the hospital. He was also not guaranteed the same quality of life, and he did not want to lose his independence or require more care. “This was a man who should have been using a walker for the last 10 years, and we could barely get him to use a cane,” Dawn said.
For Dain, a man of strong faith and deep Christian roots, heaven was a reality that offered the assurances of an ever-lasting life. “I loved watching his faith shine as he spoke about his decision, and began to get excited about heaven,” Dawn said. “But I also told him that our hearts would still ache over losing him.”
Dain looked at her. “And that is unavoidable.”
His nurse on the COVID unit, Heather Galovic, felt crushed when she learned of his decision. Like many of her patients since March, Dain had good days and bad days. She knew how much he loved his family, but she also knew how much he hated wearing a mask on his face to push air into his weakened lungs.
“He would roll his eyes and sigh when I told him he needed to wear it. I tried to encourage him, but the bipap is cumbersome,” Heather said. “He would move around in bed and the mask would slide around, so alarms would be going off. I frequented his room quite often on those nights. Short of intubation, we were doing all we could do.”
Heather said Dain was just an all-around nice guy. “The peace that he had making that decision is the kind of peace that I hope I can find one day,” she said.
The day was filled with phone calls between Dain and his children and grandchildren. In his final hours, he said his last good-bye to Janay, his beloved wife of 55 years.
“I love you,” Dain texted her.
But Janay would not answer. She was fighting her own battle with COVID.
Dain and Janay married on Sept. 18, 1965 and settled down to have a family in Goshen.
Through the years, they loved nothing more than spending time with their three children, 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Even in their 70s, they never missed attending an important school event or cheering in the stands at a ball game.
Janay liked to visit the quaint shops in Shipshewana and she frequently met and chatted with girlfriends at the coffee shop. When Dain wasn’t coaching his grandchildren’s baseball teams and watching the Cleveland Indians during the summer, he played cards and volunteered with the Indiana Model Train Visitors Club.
They were a couple of strong faith and deep Christian roots. As long-time attendees of Nappanee Missionary Church, Dain and Janay hosted weekly bible studies in their home for decades. Their study group most recently had been talking about heaven.
Over the years, they opened their home to friends and strangers, allowing them to stay for extended amounts of time. Dawn said they invited foreign exchange students, interns from ministries, family members, and many others, to live with them.
“They just loved other people,” Dawn said. “They knew no strangers.”
One Sunday in mid-October, Dain and Janay missed church services. They never missed church. Dain had started feeling extremely tired, and he developed a fever. Even though Janay, 75, felt perfectly healthy, they knew the symptoms of COVID, they understood the risks at their ages, and so they decided to get tested.
Both tests came back positive.
The same day they received their results, Dain was so sick his family took him to the Memorial Hospital emergency room. Janay was still feeling OK, so quarantined at home with her children frequently checking in on her.
Janay started having difficulty breathing a few days later. An ambulance was called to take her to Memorial, where Dain had been admitted. But the hospital was on diversion, because the number of adult patients – including those who were COVID-positive – had exceeded the number of beds.
So Janay was taken to Elkhart General.
“Our family was suddenly plunged into an incredibly challenging set of circumstances with two family members at two different hospitals in a pandemic setting with all kinds of restrictions,” Dawn said. “COVID is a bit of a roller coaster, leaving you feeling encouraged at one moment, then plummeting into the difficult realities of the next moment.”
Both Dain and Janay had cell phones at their bedside, so they could communicate with their family, and talk with one another, from their hospital beds. This is a couple that normally never spent much time apart.
But as COVID attacked their lungs, making it difficult for them to breathe, both needed oxygen support from bipap machines. While Dain used his a little more intermittently early on, Janay required oxygen around-the-clock.
The two never spoke, never heard the sound of the other’s voice, again.
Memorial Hospitalist Dr. Swetha Chitta had long conversations with Dain. During their talks, Dain described how he had always been a strong believer in his faith.
On the day he decided to forego treatment, he told her God had another plan for him, free of suffering. Dr. Chitta said it was painful to see the toll COVID was taking on Dain, both physically and mentally. Deep in her heart, she knew his prognosis was poor.
“He held my hands, looked into my eyes and thanked me for caring for him, for being his physician. You could see in his eyes the gratitude he had for each and every person who had been with him on his journey,” she said.
For a second, her eyes filled with tears.
“I had to take a moment and come out of the room. It made me realize how brutal this virus could be to a family, to lose a loved one within a short time, with no warning,” she said. “He had given up fighting and made peace.”
Dain asked his daughter-in-law to stay with him and his children during his final hours.
“It was an incredible honor for me, as a chaplain,” Dawn said. “I am not sure a greater honor has ever been bestowed on me in this life.”
Before her husband and his siblings arrived, Dawn hugged her father-in-law, and then she asked him for a favor when he got to heaven. “I asked him to give my mom a hug and tell her how I miss her desperately.
“When I said this, Dain started thinking about all the others in heaven he would soon get to see and told her, ‘Now, I’m getting excited.’ It was all very beautiful.”
Dain took his last breath at 4:45 a.m. on Nov. 2.
Despite their immeasurable sadness, the children had little time to grieve the loss of their dad.
Someone had to tell their mom.
Janay had become very sick, very fast.
Elkhart General nurse Lauren Kelly said Janay was not able to talk much, but when she did, she asked about Dain.
“I would hold her hands, which always calmed her, and tell her I would find out what I could,” Lauren said. “It showed just how much she loved him.”
That morning, Lauren received an unexpected phone call from Janay’s son, Ryan.
“He broke the news to me that her husband, his dad, had passed away that morning from COVID. I was shocked,” Lauren said. “I didn’t know how severe it was for him. My heart broke for my patient, my heart broke for their kids.”
Knowing the news of her husband’s death might upset Janay, and even cause panic and respiratory issues, Lauren was prepared to administer additional medication, if needed. She helped the children don masks, gowns and gloves.
Lauren immediately saw a sense of calm rush over Janay when she saw her kids. But it was heartbreaking to know the reason a special exception had been made for them to be there.
“Mom, Dad has gone to be with Jesus,” Ryan told his mom as he held her hands.
“That was the hardest thing I have ever done,” he said. “Mom was sad, scared and in pain. She was on the bipap machine and couldn’t talk to us.”
But Janay seemed at peace knowing that her husband was not suffering, Lauren said. At the same time, it was difficult for Janay’s children to see the depth of their mom’s struggle and the poorness of her health – hours after they lost their dad.
Ryan and his siblings talked to the medical team. And they talked to their mom.
Along with Janay, they made the decision to stop treatment so she could begin her journey to heaven. The bipap was soon removed.
Lauren respected how much the siblings respected their mom’s wishes. “No matter how hard it was for them, I know if my parents were sick, I’d struggle with that. Even after losing their dad, they were OK with the hard decisions they had to make for their mom.”
She gave the family time to be alone.
“They sat by her side, rubbed her hands, read her the bible, stroked her hair, played and sang gospel music to her, as I kept her as comfortable as I possibly could with the medications available,” Lauren said.
As she slipped in and out of consciousness, some calls were made. Good-byes were said.
Ryan held the phone up to his mom’s ear so Dawn could talk to Janay before she passed.
“I was sitting in the parking garage, high enough up so I could see the river,” Dawn said. “I sat there crying, telling her I loved her. I thanked her for all they did for our kids, and us and especially for all the laughter. Whenever we were with them, it was a time of soul-cleansing laughter.”
Janay whispered, ‘I love you.’
“That means the world to me,” Dawn said.
At 8:30 p.m., Janay finished her journey to heaven, and to the love of her life, Dain.
“I suppose after 55 years of marriage, they just did not want to be apart,” Dawn said.
More than a month later, the Morehouse family is still coming to terms with the loss of Dain and Janay. They are deeply grateful for the level of care and connection Memorial and Elkhart General staff at all levels made with their loved ones and their family.
“We know how hard everyone is working to take care of these COVID patients. The time they spent providing care, taking calls, inquiring about the parent at the other hospital, it was all so deeply meaningful and significant to us,” Dawn said. “We are very thankful.”
They are also grateful for the memories of times spent with Dain and Janay, times full of joy and laughter, and for the peace knowing they are together in heaven.
But some days it does not seem real. It all happened so fast.
“To say we are shell-shocked, overwhelmed and exhausted is an understatement,” Dawn told members of their family the night Dain and Janay passed from this life to everlasting life. “And we are grieving – goodness, yes.”
As Dain said, “‘It is unavoidable.’”