Maryland Department of Health
“I lost my husband, I have been desperately sick, and I am isolated and alone because people have an irrational fear that I will infect them.” ~ Marsha Bell
Reverend Marsha Bell, 73, retired two years ago as pastor of the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Cumberland. Marsha retired so that she and her husband Cecil, 73, could enjoy life’s blessings while they were both still healthy and vibrant. After reconnecting at their 50th high school reunion in XXXX, the pair had been wed for just five years.
Tragically, COVID-19 destroyed their dreams. “COVID-19 ruined my life,” said Marsha, her voice hoarse and cracking. “It keeps going from bad to worse.”
After being admitted to the hospital just days apart in early November, the couple were placed on the same “COVID ward”– but they were quarantined in separate rooms and not allowed to see each other. “I kept asking if we could just be in the same room. We were both positive. But they wouldn’t let us,” Marsha said.
When Marsha was released from the hospital in mid-November, Cecil stayed. He went from the Covid ward to the ICU, because of oxygen needs. And then things turned even worse. Doctors called Marsha to tell her Cecil would need to be put in a medically induced coma and paralyzed, in preparation for a ventilator. Still too ill to walk herself, Marsha came to the hospital in a wheelchair with the help of her best friend (who had also had Covid) to see her husband.
“We had our sweet talk for about an hour, declaring again that we were the love of each other’s lives and how wonderful marriage had been for both of us,” she remembered. “Cecil kept saying that he wanted to come home to me. He was very afraid of the ventilator, and I tried to calm his anxiety.”
Over the following days — days that Marsha describes as “personal hell” — Cecil declined while she suffered alone in their home. “I could only call the ICU at 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. for status updates. I couldn’t even make it up the stairs because I was so sick. I was alone, scared, and waiting for him to die.”
On November 25, Cecil’s doctor asked Marsha to come say goodbye. Marsha and her best friend, another priest, were allowed to perform a pastoral liturgy called the “commendation of the dying” before the life support machines were turned off.
“I put the telephone to Cecil’s ear so his daughters could say goodbye. Then I had alone time with him after the ventilator was turned off and everything was disconnected. His heart was still beating. I talked to him of my love and sang over him while he was dying.”
The heartbreak of Cecil’s passing has been followed by more tragedy with Marsha grieving alone. “People are afraid of me. No one will hug me.”
She understands that people are afraid — but she is also afraid. “People have to understand you cannot impose a stigma on someone for life because they have had this disease and are simply trying to recover,” Marsha said. “When you do that, you are going to kill them emotionally.”