This Thanksgiving was the Monge family’s first without their eldest son Nathan.
The family of four from North St. Paul contracted COVID-19 in April. Nathan died a week later. Kris Monge, Nathan’s mother, was admitted to the hospital hours after his death. Her husband John Monge would join her a few days after. Their youngest son Noah recovered at home alone. The Monges suddenly found themselves needing support, for everyday tasks to planning a funeral.
Their friends, family and church quickly stepped up. They made sure the Monges would not be alone on the long road ahead.
“We are so grateful for all the help,” Kris Monge said.
The Monges relied on their faith as well as the care of friends and family. The support has helped them grieve and recover.
Nathan’s parents recall his bright smile and his willingness to help others. A car fanatic, he owned a window tinting business and loved watching movies with his dad and brother.
Nathan was nearing his 27th birthday when he started coughing and having trouble with his breathing. Noah, 23, tested positive for COVID-19, and soon the entire family was sick.
The symptoms persisted about a week before the Monge family woke to Noah calling for help. Nathan had fallen. He wasn’t breathing.
Kris Monge and Noah Monge performed CPR until paramedics arrived. They could not save his life.
Nathan died April 11. His official cause of death was listed as acute respiratory distress syndrome, with COVID-19 listed as a contributing factor.
Nathan (left) and Noah (right) Monge. (Courtesy of the Monges)
Kris Monge lay on the floor with Nathan until his body was taken away.
A few hours later, John Monge drove an ailing Kris Monge to United Hospital. Her oxygen levels were in the low 60s when she arrived.
“I thought we were going to have two funerals for quite a while,” he said.
Within days, John was admitted.
“All of a sudden, everything came apart. … Our lives just came crashing down,” he said.
Kris Monge spent 11 days at United; John Monge was there a week. Their last two days, they were able to spend together in the same unit, and they were released the same day.
Kris Monge still struggles with her breathing and self-treats with oxygen.
John Monge said that getting to see his wife again after being sick was a relief. “You don’t know how this is gonna end, you don’t know what’s gonna happen,” he said. “A lot of prayers were answered.”
A COMMUNITY RESPONDS
Lori Buller and her family have been friends with the Monges for nearly 30 years. After she received a frantic phone call on an early Sunday morning, she and her husband Greg quickly drove to the Monge home.
The Bullers arrived at a scene of despair. They consoled the Monges and spoke with the coroner as Nathan’s body was being removed.
And after Kris Monge was admitted into the hospital, the Bullers and their community of friends and family started helping where they could.
“They just lost Nathan, and that very same day were separated and in the hospital; they weren’t even allowed to be together,” Lori Buller said. “How devastating is that?”
They visited Noah Monge while his parents were in the hospital. A meal train was set up to provide food for him, and it lasted two months. Kris Monge’s elderly parents would stop by, sitting on the outside deck to be with him while keeping 6 feet away.
Monge family photos sit on a table in their home in St. Paul on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. The family of four contracted COVID-19 in April and eldest son Nathan died a week later. (Emily Urfer / Pioneer Press)
Kristan Johnson, another longtime family friend, went through hundreds of photos of Nathan for his memorial service. Johnson’s daughter died in 2019 in a car accident, and she said she knew what her friends would be going through.
“I loved hearing stories about Nathan and living through their photos with them,” she said. “You want people to say your child’s name; you don’t want people to forget.”
The Johnsons and Bullers homeschooled their children in the same program as the Monges. They became quick friends who later vacationed and attended church together.
When a 27-year-old dies, “it’s such a shock,” Johnson said. “Everybody wants to help in some way.”
Immediately, the community got to work.
When news of Nathan’s death reached the family’s pastor, he stopped the service and the whole congregation prayed for the Monges. This was just the beginning of the army of help from their church family at Stillwater Evangelical Free Church, Kris Monge said. Members weeded the family’s garden, ran errands and volunteered to help with the funeral.
“I think there is just a lot to be said for our Christian faith and having that community that will surround you,” Buller said.
Buller was the funeral director at the family’s church. People donated food, musical talents and time helping set up for the service for Nathan in May.
And Kris Monge’s colleagues at Edina Realty helped keep her business running as she recovered.
“We just lived life for (them) on all the things that needed to get done,” Buller said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that John and Kris Monge would be there for any of us in the same fashion, should any of us ever have any tragedies befall on us.”
Seven months have passed since Nathan’s death.
Although they have gone back to work and started moving forward with their lives, John Monge said some days are harder than others.
Noah Monge, from left, Kris Monge and John Monge pose for a portrait with a photo of their son and brother, Nathan Monge, in St. Paul on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. Nathan recently passed away after contracting COVID-19. (Emily Urfer / Pioneer Press)
“It’s just not easy no matter what,” he said. “Every day I wake up and I’m reminded of him being gone.”
Kris Monge said that without their Christian faith, she doesn’t know how she’d cope with the loss her family has endured.
Before he died, Nathan “assured us that he loved Jesus, that he was going to heaven. So, without that, I would still be on the floor, every day,” she said.
Kris Monge said that she often seeks out the Johnson family for advice about grief and healing.
Nathan is remembered as a daddy’s boy with a big smile and a willingness to help others.
John Monge said he’s thankful for the memories they made with Nathan, “even though it wasn’t long enough, there were good times.”
“Be thankful for the time we get,” he said. “You never know. Nobody knows.”
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