GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — There was nothing more important to Dee TeSaa than faith and family.
“She was all about her love for the Lord and opening up her house to family all the time,” Mark TeSlaa told News 8 in an interview via Zoom.
In fact, the 80-year-old matriarch, who lived in Ada Township with her husband of 61 years, mentioned both faith and family when Mark TeSlaa questioned if the family should go to dinner together three weeks ago.
“We went out to eat,” TeSlaa recalled. “It was a traditional gift to my parents for Christmas. Just the (five) siblings all get together and go out to eat and enjoy a meal together where my mom doesn’t have to make the whole meal.”
It was before the in-dining shutdown and stay-at-home order from the state, measures aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus.
Still, TeSlaa wasn’t sure.
“We faithfully prayed about (going to dinner). I even asked Mom, ‘Do you think this is wise that we got out together?’ … But she said, ‘If this is the Lord’s way to take us, then it is that way… Family’s too important. Getting together and having a meal together is very important.’”
The TeSlaas took extra precautions, washing hands often and even refraining from hugs, a sacrifice for the loving, tight-knit family.
But days later, Mark TeSlaa and his wife Stephanie say, “multiple family members” had COVID-19 symptoms.
“They all came up with symptoms roughly around the same time,” TeSlaa explained. “It was definitely a week and a half where we’re pretty confident they all had COVID.”
He and his wife said they had been checking on his mom daily via FaceTime when they noticed Friday that her breathing seemed more labored than usual.
The church organist worked in medical records until six months ago when, at age 79, she developed respiratory problems, which put her at greater risk for complications from coronavirus. Though she told her kids that her temperature had not exceeded 100 degrees, they knew it was time to get her to the hospital.
Days later, the hospital agreed to allow her to be transferred, with hospice care, from the hospital to a home.
“I believe we were told that Mom was the very first COVID patient that they were allowed to transfer to a home,” Stephanie TeSlaa, Dee’s daughter-in-law, said. “Mom was released to come into a home that had already been affected by COVID so that family could pay their last respects and say that they loved her.”
Family members who had not previously been exposed and developed symptoms said ‘goodbye’ to Dee through a glass door.
“We kind of put her by the slider door so family could walk by and open the slider,” Mark TeSlaa described. “Most people said, ‘Love you, Grandma’ or ‘Love you, Mom,’ and then shut the door for obvious reasons. But it was awesome for them to get a chance to say their ‘goodbye.’”
Dee TeSlaa died early Wednesday morning from “respiratory failure due to COVID-19,” according to Kent County records. She was the second person in Kent County to have died of the virus that has sickened nearly 10,800 statewide and killed 417.
Mark TeSlaa and his wife said they are grateful to Spectrum Health employees for their kindness and compassion.
“It was awesome that we had time where Mom was just with family and not in a hospital,” TeSlaa said. “That was her wish.”
The TeSlaas did not identify the restaurant where the family ate and they have no idea if that’s where they picked up the virus, anyway.
Dee’s children want to focus on their mom’s life, not the virus that claimed it.
“She was a strong, strong, woman,” Stephanie TeSlaa said.
“The foundation of her life was based on Jesus Christ, and she made sure all of her kids made it a priority to walk faithfully,” Mark TeSlaa said.
Dee TeSlaa left behind her husband Marvin, five children, 15 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Her oldest son, as well as the other family members who developed COVID-19 symptoms, have since recovered.
“I’ve been telling lots of people, ‘Hug your family,’” Stephanie TeSlaa said. “You don’t realize the gift of family and the gift of time until things like this happen, and I know Mom left this earth knowing she was loved. There are absolutely no regrets at all. We have shown her what she meant to us, but we still are going to miss her tremendously.”