When Georgia Duling went to see the doctor, she always grabbed a paper mask off the counter and tucked it in her purse.
She had a collection of them in her closet at Tabitha’s Harbor House, where she and her husband of 69 years lived.
When the coronavirus crept closer, she told her younger daughter where to find them, just in case she needed one.
“She remembered as a little girl the quarantine signs on the doors of homes with mumps or whooping cough,” daughter Janice Boosalis said last week. “She was very much aware the pandemic was looming.”
Georgia and Van Duling both died during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Georgia at the end of March, and Van 11 weeks later, both from lingering health problems.
The end for their mother came quickly, but the whole family was lucky, Boosalis said, to be able to be with their father in his last hours.
Saying their goodbyes, two at a time, temperatures taken, hands washed, wearing masks.
“I’ll never forget the final hours with my father,” Boosalis said. “I whispered into his ear, ‘Hey, Dad, it’s Janice. I hope it’s OK if I give you a shave.’”
That had been her routine during the couple’s time at Harbor House during her daily visits. Helping her dad shave and splash on some Brut before heading to her mom’s room to chat and lend a hand before Georgia donned fresh lipstick for the couple's nightly date in the dining room.
After her mom died, the skilled-nursing facility shut down to visitors. Boosalis and her sister were still able to phone Van’s room to chat and the staff organized weekly Facetime visits.
Boosalis’ day was Monday.
They’d talk about the view outside his window and the photo book of memories they had been working on when the visits stopped.
Van, 93, was a Navy veteran — a medic during World War II — and a drummer who loved big-band music. Georgia, 92, wise and supportive and community-minded. They raised two daughters in Lincoln — Lynn Kalemkiarian and Boosalis. They doted on three grandchildren.
This column originally ran on July 19, 2020.
Together they’d operated Van C. Duling Travel Inc., helping thousands of Lincolnites see the world.
The husband was able to sit at his wife’s bedside during her last days, holding her hand. And the staff at Harbor House helped comfort him in the time that followed.
“They showed such compassion rallying around him and helping him through his grief,” Boosalis said.
The family was grateful as they clung to the new routines.
Granddaughter Kaylin Boosalis sent long letters from California to her “Baba” and the family found them stacked on his nightstand when he died.
“He would read and reread those letters.”
On Memorial Day, Boosalis scheduled her FaceTime call during a trip to the cemetery so her widowed father could see the headstone etched with pine trees that Georgia had helped pick out before she died.
A week later, the FaceTime call fell on her wedding anniversary and Boosalis turned the pages of her old album — the June 1, 1980, marriage of George Boosalis and Janice Duling — as she and her dad remembered that long-ago day.
“I was just so grateful he was feeling good.”
The nurses took over her shaving routine and the splash of Brut.
One day, the nurses wheeled him outside and he held up a sign: Hope to see you soon!
It wasn’t the same, those phone calls and the faces peering at each other on a screen, but there were blessings in those weeks, Boosalis said.
It was hard to hear him say, Oh Janice, I wish you could come visit.
But she saw the strength of his character in the way he navigated the challenge of separation.
It deepened their bond, the daughter said.
“I can say with a lot of love in my heart, it has helped me work through the process in a way I couldn’t have expected.”
She feels at peace.
There was that long phone call, two days before he died. Dad was tired. He said he was ready to go be with her mom.
She asked him if he wanted to listen to music.
You pick, he said.
How about “Stardust?” she asked.
“OK, Janice,” he answered. “Play me out on Stardust.”
The old song played over the phone line.
And Van Duling fell asleep.
Milestones in Lincoln and Nebraska's coronavirus fight
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