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January 28, 2021

One last blessing. For 20 precious minutes, 89-year-old Barrier met granddaughter

By Ken Garfield

SALISBURY — Their first and only meeting lasted 20 minutes. That was long enough.

Joan Barrier — Granny to her loved ones — was born and raised in Rowan County. A bookkeeper by trade, she was a gifted seamstress, cook and gardener who enjoyed canning the fruits of her labor. Her honesty, bordering at times on bluntness, was one of her most endearing qualities. When someone would pronounce her first name “Joan,” as it’s spelled, she’d crinkle her nose and say, “It’s Jo-Ann.” She and her late husband, Karr, had three children, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Here was the challenge that led to those 20 precious moments: The sixth great-grandchild, Ansley, was born on June 19. She’s the daughter of Garrett and Whitley Harmon of Salisbury. Joan had never gotten to meet Ansley. At 89, Joan was on her deathbed at the Glenn A. Kiser Hospice House on Statesville Boulevard. The 10-bed home for those nearing life’s end is part of Novant Health Hospice & Palliative Care. Joan had survived COVID-19 in May, but congestive heart failure was taking its toll. The quarantine was making it difficult for Granny and Ansley to meet. Difficult but not impossible.

Whitley, an ER nurse at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, shared her wish with the hospice team, including Dr. Chetan Amin and RN Jessica Isbanioly. That is how, with every safety precaution in place, Ansley and Granny met one fine day in October, at the intersection of life and what comes next.

Whitley gently placed Ansley in Granny’s arms and told her what a cheerful baby she was, always smiling. Joan, in turn, told Whitley and Ansley that she loved them. Classic Joan, she also warned everyone in the room not to let the baby spit up on her. Ansley, four months old, wore a pink bow for the occasion. Joan didn’t let her oxygen tube get in the way. “When we got ready to leave,” Whitley said, “Granny called me by name and I took Ansley back to her bedside for one last good-bye.”

“It was so special,” Whitley said. “I wanted my baby to get to meet her great-grandmother. Everyone at the Hospice House was fantastic.”

In the spirit of final blessings, it should be noted that Joan got to visit with her five other great-grandchildren the next day, whom she had already had the pleasure of meeting. The families of triplets Abigail, Brielle and Caroline Flynn and twins Fletcher and Judd Stehr traveled to Salisbury from out of town, knowing what was soon to come.

One last blessing: Whitley had the presence of mind to pull out her cellphone and snap some photos of Granny and Ansley meeting. “I can’t wait to show Ansley the pictures of her and Granny,” she said. “I’ll tell her Granny was a spitfire.”

Four days later, Joan Barrier died.

To learn more about the Glenn A. Kiser Hospice House and Novant Health Hospice & Palliative Care, visit www.novanthealth.org/home/services/hospice.

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