The family sits around the dining room table in a small quiet neighborhood on the north side of Lawton. They’re going through old photos, attempting to reclaim two weeks of Eva’s life stolen from them by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A black and white photo shows a vibrant young lady, glowing in a homemade wedding dress. Another shows her decked out in bell bottom overalls, clutching a purse and laughing on a street somewhere in Germany. Another depicts an older, yet handsome woman sharing a kiss and a sucker with a toddler in a red dress.
Although more than two months have passed, Carl Ingle, daughter Michelle Camacho and granddaughter Vanessa Camacho, are still coming to terms with the death of the family matriarch, Eva Ingle. Eva’s death was not COVID-19 related, but the virus still had a profound effect on their lives, and deprived them of their final two weeks with a wife, mother and grandmother.
From where Vanessa sits, she can see the recliner her grandmother once occupied and the spot on the floor where Vanessa would sit at her feet to watch television. Vanessa was very close to her “Na Na,” and some of her earliest memories are of watching daytime television with Eva, who kept a “hilarious” running dialogue about the happenings of “Judge Judy” and other shows.
With tears in her eyes, Vanessa tells a story about her grandmother’s goulash, a favorite dish of Vanessa’s. When younger she asked her grandmother if she could “borrow” some goulash. From that point on it was a running joke between the two.
“Every time she would make goulash after that, she would always ask if I would l would like to borrow some,” laughed Vanessa.
There are more stories around the table, some have everyone laughing, others leave the family somber, staring off into the distance to remember a woman who “never met a stranger,” and spent her life caring about everyone while “leaving an impression everywhere she went.”
In the midst of a nationwide pandemic, Carl admitted his wife of over 51 years into the hospital.
While having his morning coffee March 31, Carl noticed Eva had not joined him at the kitchen table. Carl went to their bedroom to check on her and in a weak voice she told him that she couldn’t get out of bed.
The night before, Eva had fallen in the bathroom and Carl had to help her back to bed, and she fell again. He was able to get her into bed, where Eva assured him she was fine and Carl, although concerned, let it go.
That morning, Eva once again assured her husband that she was OK, but he wasn’t letting it go so easily this time. He called their daughter, Michelle, who quickly came over. After taking one look at her mother, Michelle and Carl convinced Eva it was time to call an ambulance. Carl wouldn’t see his wife again for 17 days.
Eva was a “war child,” born in 1947 to a German mother and an American G.I., Eva never knew or met her father. Many of those children and their mothers were subject to ridicule and discrimination. A 2013 research project in which 146 grown children of Allied soldiers were interviewed found that they were plagued by traumatic memories and depression to a far greater extent than average for their age group.
Being stigmatized compounded their often difficult childhood circumstances. Many grew up in poverty, in children’s homes or with frequently changing guardians, or they were ostracized within their own families.
Eva was one of those children. Her father returned to the United States before she was born and a short time later Eva was taken from her mother to be placed in an orphanage. At 16 years old, Eva was given the choice of going to college or accepting an apprenticeship. Eva chose dressmaking, a craft that Carl said she never enjoyed.
Eva, in a way, followed in the footsteps of her mother, becoming pregnant by a G.I. who later left the country and returned to the U.S. without so much as a goodbye.
Not happy with dressmaking, but needing to support herself and her young son, Eva took a position as a server at a noncommissioned officers club on the local U.S. Army post.
There she met Carl, a newly minted sergeant. Eva was leery of U.S. service members but for Carl, it was love at first sight. He just had to convince her that he was the one for her. Carl wasn’t much of a drinker, but he would frequently visit the club, always making sure he made contact with the young mother.
“At first she wouldn’t have much to do with me, but I kept trying,” Carl said. “Then she gave me a free beer or two sometimes, so I knew I was finally reaching her.
The two married May 2, 1968, and Eva wore a dress and hat she made for the occasion. Carl raised her son, Frank, as his own and the small family made a life together in the Army. The family traveled around Europe and moved from one Army installation to the next while raising a young son and welcomed the addition of Michelle in 1970 to their small family.
Eva grew up poor, but she never wanted the nicer things in life. A big house and fine jewelry aren’t what brought Eva happiness, Ingle said. She loved the smaller, simpler things — a good meal, travel and family.
Michelle remembers her mother as being strict, but engaging with her and her half-brother Frank. Eva would go all out decorating their home during the holidays, especially Christmas.
Carl described Eva as “the life of the party,” and a “hard-headed German.” But that all changed in July 1989 with a visit from an Army officer and chaplain. Eva’s son, Frank, had died in a single-vehicle accident while serving at Fort Hood, Texas.
“Eva changed after that,” Carl said. “I think a very large part of her died that night.”
Frank’s death was a traumatic experience for Eva and Carl. The couple dealt with their grief in different ways, creating a rocky time in their relationship. However, the couple fought through it and eventually decided to live day to day. They never made plans because, for them, they never knew what tomorrow would bring.
“(Eva) was the strongest woman I knew,” Michelle said. “But the loss of Frank really had an effect on my mother and it was so hard seeing her go through that.”
Eva’s final ordeal began in March when she was admitted to a Lawton hospital for weakness and other symptoms of bladder scarring and infection. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Carl and his family were unable to visit, and because of overwhelmed phone lines the family struggled to contact Eva or get through to staff for information about her. The few times the family was able to get through, Eva sounded despondent and eventually refused to even talk on the phone.
Michelle described it as a very frustrating two and a half weeks, with little to no information coming from the hospital.
“My mother didn’t deserve to be alone in that hospital,” Michelle said. “She was all alone and we felt so helpless. There was no information coming out and we couldn’t get through.”
Frustrated by not being able to see or visit his wife, Carl transferred Eva to another Lawton facility, not realizing the restrictions were nationwide. Eva was transferred to a long-term care facility, but the family was met with the same COVID-19 roadblocks and hurdles as before.
It wasn’t long before a nurse at the long-term care facility, who was also a friend of the family, called Carl and explained to him that Eva wanted to come home. Excitedly, Carl began making preparations for Eva’s return.
Eva returned home and, to the surprise of the family, Eva was under hospice care — confined to a bed and on a medication regimen that kept her free from pain, but not lucid.
“The second I saw her, I knew my wife was gone,” Carl said. “The woman I loved wasn’t there anymore.”
Unable to physically cope with the deterioration of his wife, Carl relied heavily on Michelle to keep Eva comfortable and medicated.
Michelle said her mother was a very independent woman who was unaccustomed to having others take care of her. During her final days, Eva would become upset when Michelle or Vanessa tried to assist her. However, Eva quickly declined, becoming more and more despondent, and rarely waking up for even brief moments. Four days after returning home, Eva was gone.
With the loss of their matriarch, the family continues on, still living life day to day.
“It just takes a big shot of patience,” said Carl. “I miss my wife but she’s still and my heart and will continue living there.”
Carl and family said they don’t blame the facilities or the staff for anything that happened.
“It was just a chaotic time,” said Carl. “The hospitals were overwhelmed with patients and their focus was on the pandemic, not my wife.”
The house is filled with memories of Eva, from the dozens of photos that adorn the walls, to small porcelain figurines that Eva collected, her presence is felt everywhere you look, but most of all when you look into Vanessa’s eyes. In those eyes is a strong young lady still hurting from the loss of her “Na Na,” who looks at the recliner in the corner with longing.
“I feel robbed,” said Vanessa. “I was cheated out of the last two weeks of my grandmother’s life and I’ll never get that back.”