Dealing With Grief During a Pandemic: A Tribute to My Cowboy

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by Jen Cueva |

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Grief and loss have been common throughout this pandemic. According to a research article published last July in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, approximately nine close family members are bereaved every time a person dies from COVID-19.

Although I have not lost any family members due to COVID-19, I have lost several over the last year. Experiencing grief and loss at any time is heartbreaking. But mix in a pandemic and precautions, and many families have had to suffer alone.

After a loss, families need to be together to grieve. Many have missed human touch, such as hugs and face-to-face interaction. Authors of “Bereavement Care in the Wake of COVID-19: Offering Condolences and Referrals,” published in the Annals of Internal Medicine last November, report that pandemic conditions pose a threat to the mental health of bereaved individuals.

Study author Holly G. Prigerson, PhD, told Kaiser Health News, “Bereaved individuals have become the secondary victims of COVID-19, reporting severe symptoms of traumatic stress, including helplessness, horror, anxiety, sadness, anger, guilt, and regret, all of which magnify their grief.”

Little did I know when I wrote a column last month about my fear of loss that I would soon be bereaved again. My stepfather, Tonyray, passed away on March 23. My mother, or “Moma,” as I call her, and I were at his bedside as he took his last breath.

Tonyray had raised my two sisters and me since I was 8 years old. He was our rough, tough cowboy. But he always loved us, and then his grandchildren, unconditionally. He and Moma were married for almost 40 years.

Tonyray had been in hospice care for months. Several weeks ago, Tonyray’s voice changed, and I could tell he was becoming weaker. I knew from my experience working as a hospice nurse that this was not a good sign. 

On the Sunday before he passed, when I called to check on them, he wasn’t responding much to anyone. When Moma told me, I asked her to hold the phone to Tonyray’s ear. She did, and he responded.

When I asked if I could visit him the following day, he asked, “Are you able to make that trip, hun?” I wanted to be with him during this time, but traveling, even a few hours, can be difficult with pulmonary hypertension. Driving from Texas to Mississippi takes quite a toll on my body. I usually have extra swelling and pain after any long period in a vehicle because of my PH and congestive heart failure.

He would usually tell me not to visit because he was worried about me making the trip, but this time I knew that he wanted me to come, so my decision was clear.

My husband, Manny, agreed to the trip only after I promised to lie down while we traveled. He made a makeshift bed with an egg crate, comforters, extra blankets, and pillows. It was pretty darn comfy.

From the left, Tonyray, Jen, and Moma dine at a seafood restaurant in 2018. (Courtesy of Jen Cueva)

When we arrived, I spent that first afternoon at Tonyray’s bedside, and I am grateful for the little talks we had. I also reminded him that Moma would be OK. He said, “I know.”

Sadly, upon waking the next morning, he was less responsive, clammy, and had some mottling. His breathing changed as the day progressed.

By midafternoon, Moma and I noticed his breathing had changed even more. Several hours later, I walked out of the room to get Moma some medication.

As I walked back in, Tonyray took his last breath.

We planned a small funeral service, and our family has received tons of support from relatives and friends.

This column is dedicated to my stepfather, Tonyray. The following quote sums him up, as he always was a John Wayne fan.

“I have tried to live my life so that my family would love me and my friends respect me. The others can do whatever the hell they please.” – John Wayne


Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because you have read it on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


June avatar


Hi my son collapsed and died suddenly on 3rd Sept 2020, we are totally heart broken, he died of sudden adult cardiac arrest, I miss him so much, I have good and bad days. I can't believe I am never going to see him again, he was my 1st born

Jen Cueva avatar

Jen Cueva

Hi June,
I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your son. Grief is different for all. I'm certain that losing a child is the hardest thing for you as a mom. I'm sending you warm hugs and positive vibes.

Thanks for reading and sharing your story.


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