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Northland Steps Up: Hermantown family camps outside grandmother’s hospice home

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HERMANTOWN, MN -- It's one of the most cruel impacts of this COVID-19 pandemic.

In most cases, family members of the sick can not be by their loved one's side in their final moments.

Patients are dying alone.

That is not just true of those infected with coronavirus, but sick for any reason.

But Thursday, a Hermantown family refused to let walls and windows stand in the way of love.

Almost 20 members of the Johnson family camped out in front of a Hermantown hospice facility, with help of a giant camper and gas generator.

Inside the building, 91-year-old Ruth Johnson was taking some of her final breaths, after suffering a stroke on Tuesday.

"She's the mom and grandma anyone wants to be," said granddaughter Alexa Byrnes.

To prevent the spread of coronavirus, Johnson's family was mostly relegated to the parking lot, only able to peer in her window.

"We have to take shifts because it's been so cold," said Byrnes.

After hearing of Johnson's stroke, her large family dropped everything and rushed to the facility, standing at her window, occasionally resting in their cars.

But after 24 hours, they realized it was time to get creative.

"My cousin had this awesome idea that if it was okay with this facility, that they orchestrate getting us the RV," said Byrnes. "It's kind of been our shelter."

So out of the RV in different shifts, Johnson's kids, grand-kids and great grand-kids took turns at the window.

"We're all in it together and that's not going to change in the midst of a pandemic," said Byrnes.

The family made sure Johnson knew she was loved, and would not pass alone.

"I don't think it's any surprise she can hear every one of her kids and the vast majority of her grand-kids. Because this is how we roll. This is what the Johnson's do," said Byrnes.

"She did a great job, and this is living proof," said granddaughter Rita Meyer.

Ruth Johnson passed away at 5:50 Thursday evening.

Her family was very much by her side.

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Dan Wolfe

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