Coronavirus: family organizes car funeral for loved one


On Wednesday afternoon, five cars full of grieving family members and a group of friends from Wanda DeSelle arrived at the Arbor Vitae Cemetery in Madera.

DeSelle died from complications from the coronavirus. She apparently contracted COVID-19 in a previous funeral.

No one left his car when the 76-year-old nurse’s coffin was transported by four funeral home workers to a Cadillac white hearse to the grave. No noise, other than the hum of car engines and a distant lawn mower, could be heard when the coffin was lowered into the ground.

If someone cried, the sound of their cries was contained in their vehicles.

A funeral takes place at Wera DeSelle, victim of the Covid 19 coronavirus, 76 years old.

Maureena Silva attends the funeral of her mother, Wanda DeSelle. She was not allowed to get out of her car at the cemetery or to see her mother in the hospital when she was seriously ill.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

As the coronavirus spreads across the country, not only are people dying alone in their hospital rooms unable to say goodbye to loved ones, but they are also buried – when possible – alone. (In many places, local health services delayed the funeral until the pandemic ended.)

And funerals are now often attended by family members and colleagues who are also carriers of the virus.

As gray clouds moved west over the cemetery on Wednesday, some of the participants were exposed to the same person at the same time, which likely caused DeSelle’s illness. Others, including DeSelle’s pregnant daughter and granddaughter, were exposed because of their care and their proximity to DeSelle.

“I was taking care of her,” said Maureena Silva, DeSelle’s daughter. “This is how I got it. And then I gave it to my daughter. “

DeSelle’s daughters Silva and Tonya Moe, along with Mohammed Ashraf, the cardiovascular doctor with whom DeSelle worked for 40 years, said she contracted the virus at the funeral of a colleague – as did 14 others.

A funeral takes place at Wera DeSelle, victim of the Covid 19 coronavirus, 76 years old.

Wanda DeSelle’s coffin is brought to his grave.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

On February 29, Maria Rodriguez, a young nurse who worked at the Ashraf clinic in Madera, was killed in a car accident.

On March 10, his colleagues gathered at his funeral to pay tribute to his family and say goodbye.

Wanda DeSelle

According to Ashraf, the small team in his office – including DeSelle – shared a table with a man who then tested positive for the virus. The man was asymptomatic at the time, said Asharaf.

“The person who had it, he ate [at] our table. We have all been exposed to it, ”he said. “I didn’t even recognize that he was sick. He was not coughing. “

He said that no one wore masks or was as aware of distance and social protection as today. At the time, neither Governor Gavin Newsom nor any county in California had issued social distancing orders or directives. Despite this, Asharaf had regrets on Wednesday.

“I guess we weren’t paying attention,” he said, his voice breaking.

Ashraf said that about 15 people who attended the funeral have since been positive. These people include DeSelle, another person in her office, the person’s husband and the husband of the young woman who died in the car accident.

Sara Bosse, head of public health for Madera County, did not confirm Ashraf’s account, citing privacy laws. Nor did she confirm whether DeSelle was one of two county deaths from coronavirus.

Funeral services take place for Wanda Deselle, victim of the Coronavirus Covid 19, age 76 in Madera.

Funeral home workers followed strict protocols when handling the coffin.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

A funeral takes place at Wera DeSelle, victim of the Covid 19 coronavirus, 76 years old.

The coffin is removed from a hearse.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

As of Wednesday, there were 28 confirmed cases in Madera County.

Ashraf said DeSelle started showing symptoms four days after the funeral.

He said that on Saturday March 14, she complained of diarrhea and an upset stomach. “She thought she had eaten something bad,” he said.

At first he was not too worried, he said. She had neither fever nor cough. But Thursday of the following week, he was more and more alarmed. He urged her to go to the emergency room and on Friday March 13, she underwent blood tests and received fluids intravenously.

A funeral takes place at Wera DeSelle, victim of the Covid 19 coronavirus, 76 years old.

Everett Bradford was a patient at the medical office where Wanda DeSelle worked at Madera. He attended his funeral.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

A week later, on March 20, things really started to deteriorate, he said. She was hospitalized on the 24th and a week later, on March 31st, she was intubated. She died on April 3.

In a Toyota sedan, about 80 feet from DeSelle’s grave, Silva and DeSelle’s granddaughter, Franchesca Montgomery, watched the coffin drop.

Silva contracted the virus while taking care of DeSelle, and then passed it on to her pregnant daughter, Montgomery, who is now five days after her due date.

Montgomery said her doctors were allowing her to wait until the pregnancy until she can get tested again, which would be in the next few days.

“I should have the baby alone if I don’t get a negative test,” she said. She has already been tested twice, but doctors want to see two negative tests before letting her deliver outside confinement, she said.

Press reports suggest that around 30% of negative COVID-19 tests are false.

Funeral services take place for Wanda Deselle, victim of the Coronavirus Covid 19, age 76 in Madera.

Wanda DeSelle’s last resting place.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

According to Silva, Montgomery is expecting a daughter.

She hopes this new life will bring with her the compassion and love that her mother, DeSelle, embodied.

“She cared so much about people. She did everything she could to help, “she said.

Everett Bradford, a DeSelle patient, stopped at the cemetery to pay tribute to him. He said he called Ashraf’s office that morning and heard it was closed for a funeral.

“I knew it was Wanda,” he said, in tears. “He was such an incredible person. I called her grandmother. I loved it. “


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