WILTON – As a girl, Donna Garvey fell off a slide while playing at recess in Nichols, hitting the concrete and fracturing her skull. During recovery, she learned that she had lost a good portion of her hearing. While struggling with hearing loss most of her life, it did not stop her from learning to play piano and organ by ear.
Her daughter, Kayla Mathis, remembers her mother playing mostly Christian music.
“My grandparents had an organ,” Kayla explained. “She played every now and again. It was awesome.”
Growing up, Kayla remembers having to make all the phone calls for the family. With her hearing problem, Donna was not able to talk on the phone. Her mother read lips and could hear slightly, but couldn’t understand what was being said.
Due to the hearing loss, Donna attended a vocational rehabilitation school in Iowa and never graduated college. But Donna was a gifted writer, writing everything from her own music to short stories to poetry. Kayla also said her mother had enjoyed spell checking any printed periodical she happened to have, giggling to herself if she found a misprint or a spelling error.
Kayla remembers reading stories her mother wrote about a hedgehog names Spike. Sometimes she would chronicle life experiences. Her mother’s humor shone through in the writings. She was also a voracious reader, one time reading a phone book from cover to cover. Donna was also known for loving cats. Her last cat, named “Monkey” died about eight years earlier.
“I still talk to her every day,” Kayla said, of her mother, who died Christmas Day of COVID-19. “I have become friends with a few people who are complete strangers to me, but my mom was very online friendly and met people from all over. She has friends in other countries and sometimes they will message me.”
Kayla said they talked about everything. Donna always had a Bible verse or a link to a song for her and no matter how bad something was bothering her was, it would get better.
“She always had an answer for everything,” Kayla said. “If there was no real good answer she would say to pray. She was very big into Christianity, although she never went to church. Ironically, her last name before she got married was Church.”
As the pandemic took hold, Donna and Kayla’s almost daily talks moved online.
Donna's friend of 40 years, Lynn Rohr Cozad, said the two were like an “old married couple” telling each other everything.
“She was my one true and loyal friend who always found a way to keep in touch,” she said. “It’s rare to have that kind of friendship these days … any days.”
Kayla still holds dear the simple message she had sent to her mother via Facebook as she woke up Christmas morning —“Merry Christmas, Mama.”
It was that morning Kayla realized something was very wrong. Donna hadn’t called Kayla on her wedding anniversary (Dec. 24) or on Christmas morning.
The family called for a welfare check and discovered Donna had died in bed. Doctors believe she stopped breathing in her sleep, likely due to complications from the coronavirus.
On Dec. 23, she had tested negative, but a test at the funeral home came back positive.
Mathis said her sister, Jessamarie Garvey, had stayed with her mother for a few weeks as Jessamarie prepared to give birth. But Donna was not allowed to have overnight guests at her apartment, so Kayla took her sister in.
Jessamarie didn't realize she was COVID-19 positive but asymptomatic, until she went to the hospital to have her baby.
Donna began feeling sick shortly after becoming a grandmother again and the illness kept getting worse, Kayla said. Her mother began having a hard time breathing, but Donna refused to go to the hospital.
On her Facebook page, Donna had posted about how 2020 had not been a good year and about how eager she was for the pandemic to be over. Many posts also shared her pride in her two daughters. One of her last online posts was “My granddaughter is now 8 days old, & I've never even been in the same room with her, much less held her. It's so frustrating, but it's because of this damn coronavirus — I have been sick, & need to get tested.”
She never got to meet her granddaughter.
“She was a good mom,” Kayla said. “She was a very good person.”
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