A vacation for Karen Darling meant something as simple as a short trip outside to her yard, tending to her plants.
Darling loved to garden so much that she would check the forecast and take vacation days when it was the perfect weather for planting flowers.
Her only son, Greg Darling, joked with her that gardening was for the weekends and that she should actually travel for her vacation.
“There were flowers in the house and flowers outside,” he said. “Lots of pots and flowers all over the place. She liked the perennials — not the annuals.”
Darling was among the first people to die of complications from COVID-19 in Douglas County. She died Friday at Immanuel Medical Center, after being on a respirator and in a medically induced coma since March 18, when an ambulance took her to the hospital. She turned 70 the next day.
Greg said his mother also had health problems relating to diabetes. He wants to spread the word that people should take the coronavirus seriously, because that’s what took his mother’s life.
“It’s real, that’s for sure,” he said. “I just can’t believe that it was my mother. It’s crazy.”
Karen had gone to Florida in early March to visit her father, Gene Loots, and help him with his affairs. While there, she had slight difficulty breathing but attributed it to the thick pollen in the area and her allergies. Greg picked her up from the airport March 12 and noticed that she seemed unwell.
She went to work at her job as the supervisor of the mail department at National Indemnity’s downtown Omaha offices for one hour the next day and was sent home, Greg said. Her father died that weekend, not from coronavirus — but adding to the family’s grief.
By the following Wednesday, Karen didn’t know what day it was. Greg decided to call 911. At first, his mother received 85% of her oxygen through a ventilator, then improved to receiving 45% of her oxygen that way. But then she got worse.
“We started going forward, and then we took 10 steps back,” Greg said.
He was able to visit her in the hospital before she died, and other relatives spoke to her through an intercom.
Surprisingly — because of his close contact with his mother — Greg has tested negative for the virus. He had helped her into the ambulance and cleaned her house when she first went to the hospital.
But Greg is frustrated that it took 10 days for his mom to get a confirmed positive result back after being tested.
Karen worked at National Indemnity for 43 years, starting as a clerk in the claims department in 1977 and being promoted to other jobs over the years. Despite being old enough to retire, she didn’t want to, Greg said.
“She said, ‘What am I going to do? I want to work,’ ” he said.
Karen also loved riding Harley Davidson motorcycles with friends or with Greg, especially for Mother’s Day rides.
In addition to Greg, she is survived by her mother, Francine Loots, brother Robert Loots and 13 grandchildren. A memorial will be planned for a later date.
“It’s tough,” Greg said. “Tough on everybody.”