Iowa Mourns is a series of remembrances about Iowans who lost their lives to COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. If you’ve lost a loved one to COVID-19 in Iowa, let us know by filling out the form below or emailing Iowa Columnist Courtney Crowder at email@example.com.
Marie Jordan had a plan to live to age 100, and her children knew better than to doubt anything their mother had in mind.
Jordan came down with polio when she was 23, emerged with a brace on one leg and bore seven children in the next eight years. Jordan beat breast cancer at age 62. She broke her leg three times, her hip once, and had her heart broken in 2003 when her husband, Jim, died while they were vacationing in London.
“She never let her handicap get in the way. We went to the swimming pool every day in the summer and to the (New Jersey) shore for family vacations,” said Julie Metros of Johnston, Jordan’s oldest daughter. “We pretty much had a ‘Leave it to Beaver’ type of household. She went grocery shopping. She cooked dinner for us.
“She always told us she wanted to live to be 100. Unfortunately, this virus was more than she could handle. I think she would have otherwise. She was very tough.”
Jordan, who spent her final years living in Urbandale, was diagnosed with COVID-19 on April 1. She died April 23, with one daughter by her side and her remaining children on a video connection. She was 88.
Marie McNally was born in Philadelphia and graduated from nursing school there. She met Jim Jordan on a blind date set up by mutual friends and they married in 1954. Four months later, polio hit Marie Jordan, causing her to miscarry. This was in an era when 16,000 Americans per year were being paralyzed by the disease and 1,900 were dying. A vaccine became widely available the next year.
Jordan learned to live with her condition.
“She was a high-energy person. It didn’t occur to me until I was in my 20s that she was really struggling,” said daughter Clare Jordan of Vermont. “She never felt sorry for herself. She was there, and she ran our household.”
Jim Jordan was in the insurance business, and the family moved to Buffalo, Boston and Baltimore before settling in Des Moines in 1978. In 1980, he bought a print shop and Marie helped him run it. She also held jobs selling Avon products and in the Sears catalog department, her son, James, recalled.
The Jordans were avid travelers. The Outer Banks of North Carolina were a favorite summer destination. James Jordan said the year his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, his father bought a cabana and set it up on the beach to keep her out of the sun. Marie Jordan had a lumpectomy, underwent radiation treatments. The cancer disappeared.
On a 2003 trip to London, Jim Jordan went out for a walk and was struck by a bus. He died two days later.
Marie Jordan sold the family home and moved into a suburban townhouse, where the large family gathered for years for holidays. She was able to live on her own until November. The four children who remained in the Des Moines area took turns looking in on her.
Barb Tillinghast of Urbandale was often the evening caretaker, responsible for putting her mother to bed. They had a routine of watching “The Great British Baking Show” on Netflix while Marie enjoyed a glass of wine.
“It was kind of a burden, but it was actually a grace,” Tillinghast said of those hours spent with her mother.
The family gathered for one last Thanksgiving in Marie Jordan’s townhouse last fall, then she went to an assisted-living facility for extra care she needed. She moved to Martina Place in Johnston.
Metros said her mom balked at first but came to enjoy being around people her age. The facility shut its doors on March 15 to try to ward off the novel coronavirus. Metros thought that meant her mother would be safe.
“It was like a punch in the gut” when news came that Marie Jordan had COVID-19, Tillinghast said. Word quickly spread among the siblings. They all were able to visit her on Facetime until she needed to be put on a ventilator. She later suffered a stroke. The children had to make the difficult decision to let the virus take its course.
Daughter Patti Smith of Granger is a nurse and was allowed to be in the room for Jordan’s final hours.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Smith said. “I called every one of my siblings and I let them speak to my mom. I put my phone up to her ear and let them talk to her.”
The family is planning to hold a Catholic Mass for their mother after COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted. She has been buried alongside her late husband.
Clare Jordan plans to come back from Vermont. She last saw her mother in August 2017. But the two shared a bond that has grown more meaningful over the years.
Marie Jordan bought a Featherweight sewing machine for $35 shortly after her wedding and used it to make clothes for her children. The machine sat in the basement of the family home, and Clare Jordan remembers being drawn to it when she was 7 years old.
“It just balanced me. It made me feel really good to do technical work, and my mom was very technical,” Clare said.
The sewing machine became Clare’s high school graduation gift and led to her vocation as a costumer. She said one day when she was in her 20s, her mother pulled her aside at a family gathering.
“You know, Clare, I told your aunts this weekend that my daughter has surpassed my talents,” Marie Jordan said.
“That was probably my proudest moment,” Clare said. “And it all began with her. I just sent out to my family members in Iowa 33 masks that I made (to stop the spread of COVID-19). Even if they don’t wear them, at least it’s a remembrance of their grandma. Because without their grandma, they wouldn’t have had that.
“I’m so proud to follow in my mom’s footsteps as a sewer.”
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