• Reporter Elaina John

An Open Letter From Bill McGrath


Bill McGrath. Photo submitted

Dear Vermilion Voice readers,

Our father, Bill McGrath, passed away October 8, 2021 due to COVID.  He was a healthy, vibrant 89-year-old who was hunting antelope on October 3rd and was gone by October 8th. He was double vaccinated but he had vulnerable lungs. Because of those susceptible lungs, we knew all through COVID that he was one of the at-risk vulnerable members of our population that needed protecting. He stayed safe for so long but Alberta’s fourth wave couldn’t be avoided and we are devastated.

After consultation with ICU doctors and the clarity there would be little chance of survival, he declined intubation, induced coma, and ICU so that meant death was imminent as his lungs failed. This decision, however, allowed the three of us to enter his room in full PPE and touch and talk and be together as a family which was one main criterion for his courageous decision. He used this time well - over the final 3 days, he reminisced, laughed, cried and gazed out the large window of his room to the east, watching the weather on what he called his TV.  

On the last afternoon of his life, Dad spent almost two hours dictating a letter for those who aren’t practicing vigilant masking and for those who are choosing not to vaccinate. Below, you’ll see that it is poignant, funny and so like him. He was concerned that people in and around the County of Vermilion River, upon learning his death was COVID-related, would use his death as validation that vaccines don’t work. He was not willing to perpetuate that false belief and he wanted to encourage everyone to vaccinate and avoid the kind of death he was experiencing.  Dad’s compassion and non-judgement of his fellow Albertans was reflected in his specific choice of words, “I don’t want people, upon hearing my story, to be afraid of getting vaccinated.” 

He wanted to speak plainly to the people of Alberta using his own straight words and he wanted to provide a warning but he also wanted to praise the healthcare workers who made a difference in his last days and hours. The family also extends our deepest appreciation for the healthcare workers. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the care you gave our family.

After drafting the letter, Dad’s life ended peacefully and courageously, holding our hands that last afternoon. He was without judgement, fear or anger and he died as he lived - joking with the hospital staff, making their job easier, providing specific positive feedback to them - always trying to brighten the day of others. He gave us all so much in those last moments and offered an example to be remembered. “Learn to do by doing and teach by showing” was one of his final comments and we’ll strive to live up to that 4-H centered motto. We will always miss you and love you Dad.

David McGrath, Ellen McLennan and Catherine McGrath-Lee and families

Open Letter to Non-Maskers and Anti-Vaxxers from Bill McGrath

 This isn’t going to have anything to do with pro’s or con’s or religion. Just a meeting among strangers out on the grass on the back lawn. I’m going to tell you what symptoms I have had and what you can probably expect. 

 We were drawn to hunt buffalo ... antelope! You know what the h*** I mean! We had a very successful hunt and our hunting party headed in different directions after a few days hunting. I went on to visit family in Southern Alberta but I developed a shade of a cough and heavy breathing. We had walked among dusty 3 foot high sagebrush while hunting - we blamed the cough on the dust.

By the next day, I was advised to get tested for COVID. We had coffee at a roadside park and a lovely drive back from the test. The next day I wasn’t feeling well and had chills. I went to bed, took Tylenol and had a reasonably good night. The next day I heard I had tested positive. I wasn’t surprised.

My deepest regret is I moved into my family’s house and I feared they would test positive. I have since learned they are ok. I am really glad they are ok.

I proceeded to not have good nights and I ended up in the hospital. High River was one of the better places I could have ended up. I liked the hospital focus, “Patient & Family Centred Care.” They ran a series of drugs on me and the doctor there admitted he was beginning to go beyond his expertise and I admired him for that. 

I am now in Calgary; a long way from home. I’m close to where my mother died. I want to give you a warning about what COVID feels like. 

The scariest thing I have had to contend with is having to sit down to pee. (We laughed out loud!) You do what you have to but make sure you have a warm washcloth handy (he said with a grin).

I’m now in Calgary receiving the best of care but my care has changed to a higher level. Absolute care; I can do very little for myself. I’m so glad family could come do teeth cleaning etc. (Bill’s son David lovingly shaved, cleaned and cared for him those days). Little things put the finishing touches on how you feel about the care. You accept the care without hesitation.

The hospital bed is an amazing creature with a mind of its own that gets to know the individual better. When nurses do their job to put the bed together by themselves; God’s truth, they crank you up and hang you by the heels and then use blankets under you to pull you up in the bed and then they let you back down. By that time, you are pretty d*** easy to please with whatever angle the bed is at!

I’m now pretty familiar with being handled like an animal - in a good way. The nurses show no lack of respect. It’s tough work for helpers and how many dirty bums they have to clean in one day. It was bad enough (for me as a farmer) to carry it out with a fork! This one nurse likes some of the things I come up with. Another one had a saying “use what you have to get the job done and get it done right away.”

I need a tape recorder so I can remember. I hope it matters to other people (choking up). I’m trying to give you a warning but really just having a conversation. I guess it is the topic of the day so no wonder we talk about it. Let’s imagine we are having another cup of coffee together. I could be talking to a friend and we just don’t know it yet. 

It feels good to get your hair brushed and hands held. Maybe you’ll need that washcloth again because some tears need to be wiped (pause). 

I think I will say ‘so long’ for now. One more thing - when in High River hospital, Dr. Smillie was washing his hands and talking to me one afternoon there and he said, “Thank God for vaccines! We wouldn’t be here talking without the vaccines!” (Coughing, tearing up).

 Happy Trails,

Bill McGrath


2,816 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

The world is ever increasingly dependent on tech and with this reliance comes a growing need for “chips.” These chips, more formally called semiconductors, are what revolutionized the electronics indu

“Get well soon” I was in Marshall School on September 1st to begin the new year as an EA and haven’t darkened their door since. Surprised? I was too, and since calamities are said to happen in threes,