Few outlets for grief as COVID-19 death toll surpasses 10,000 in Canada

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TORONTO – On March 8, a man in his 80s died in a nursing home in British Columbia, the first-ever Canadian victim of a new virus spreading around the world. Seven months later, we have taken a tragic step forward: over 10,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Canada.

Behind that number lie not only the thousands of individual stories of loss, but also the countless loved ones left behind to fight their grief at a time when families cannot come together to mourn properly.

COVID-19 has torn the Canadian landscape, causing upheaval in the health care system, schools, families and workplaces.

The victims range from the young to the elderly, from residents of nursing homes to doctors working tirelessly in hospitals. Many died from the virus before its severity was fully understood by the public.

AN OVERVIEW OF THE TOLL

Only one of the 10,000 victims is Sean Cunnington, a 51-year-old musician, father and husband who was killed by COVID-19 in March.

His wife, Teri Cunnington, described him as “the most caring, genuine and loving person.”

“You know, he was everything to me,” she told CTV News.

She was among the first to warn of the tragic effects of the disease after losing her husband, urging people to take the virus seriously and follow health precautions.

“Anyone can get this disease,” she says. “Everybody can.”

The elderly tend to have more severe cases, but young people can still be killed by the new coronavirus.

In Quebec, a community was stunned when 19-year-old Don Beni Kabangu Nsapu was caught by the virus in August.

The teenager arrived in Canada in 2015 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and was “an angel”, according to his high school soccer coach, Stéphane Kalonga.

“You can’t ask for a better son, or a better little brother, or a better guy than Don Beni,” Kalonga said.

Some had struggled with other conditions or health concerns for years before COVID-19 arrived.

When Deb Diemer, 57, started to feel bad a few weeks after a successful kidney transplant, her family thought it was nothing.

“We just thought it was a simple cold,” her husband, Mike Diemer, told CTV News.

Deb had been through a lot and had always stood out before, having received a double lung transplant in 2002 – 16 years after being diagnosed with primary pulmonary hypertension.

Her husband said that even when they knew it was COVID-19, “we thought we had this beat.”

Nine days after testing positive, she died in her Calgary home.

“She was a woman in her 50s with pre-existing conditions,” said Mike Diemer. “I’m not going to let her be reduced to that, a statistic.

Another group of people who are at a higher risk of contracting the virus are those who try to stop it.

After decades of medical work, Dr Abubakar Notiar has died of COVID-19 at the age of 80.

“This virus is deadly, and it has taken a giant out of our lives,” his son, Dr. Reza Notiar, told CTV News.

He pointed out that his father, who worked for 50 years in Kenya providing healthcare to those who could not afford it, was someone who always put others first.

“He has, for over half a century, cared for tens of thousands of people for free.”

There have been countless deaths among those working on the front lines of this pandemic, sometimes without proper equipment and protection.

Like Leonard Rodriques, 61, a personal support worker who died in May and had to buy his own personal protective equipment (PPE) at the dollar store.

On the day of his death, his wife found him motionless in their room.

“I saw him lying flat on his back with the phone in his hand and the glasses were all crooked on his face,” Dorothy Rodriques said.

The family performed CPR on him until the paramedics arrived, but nothing could be done.

“My son is yelling, ‘Daddy, don’t leave us,’” Dorothy recalls.

His daughter, Terena, told CTV News that “there are so many PSWs like him who are not protected.

“My father is dead. Faded away. ”

These are just a few of the people who have been struck by the virus.

THE GRIEVANCE OF THOSE WHO KEEP BEHIND

But despite the thousands of Canadians who are dying from this virus, that massive heartbreak has been largely invisible – COVID-19 has canceled funerals, brought families inside, and made it harder to share pain or grief. celebration of the lives of those who have died.

Bereavement counselors and psychologists say we need opportunities and support.

“This is absolutely unprecedented,” Shelly Cory, executive director of the Canadian Virtual Hospice, told CTV News.

The Canadian Virtual Hospice provides resources such as MyGrief.ca and KidsGrief.ca to help families, children and individuals cope with grief and issues related to palliative care and advanced illness.

According to Cory, since the start of the pandemic, inquiries and requests for help through their MyGrief.ca platform have increased 270% from last year.

“It worries me for people who don’t get support and it worries me for society, because when grief is not well taken care of, it can then slide into depression and suicidal thoughts,” Cory said.

A July study examining the ripple effect of grief from COVID-19 showed that for every person who dies from COVID-19, about nine people on average face the loss.

“So when we do the math, it’s a significant number of Canadians that are affected,” Cory said. “When we do the math further for all of the people who are grieving during that time, whose grief is touched, that number rises to nearly 1.3 million Canadians who, in the past six, seven months, have [experienced this grief]. »

That number does not even include the thousands more deaths from other causes this year, or the families and friends whose grieving process for these deaths has been disrupted by the inability to come together and mourn together. due to public health restrictions.

“We’re not in a position to go through all of these rituals that we usually do when someone dies,” Cory said. “So we’re not able to come together at the bedside, support both the dying person and each other, so that the human connection is cut off, and that human connection is so critical.

Some COVID-19 victims said goodbye to loved ones on a video call before being intubated. Others have died alone in hospital, weeks after they last saw the face of a family member or friend.

Mubarak Popat, a 77-year-old man who contracted COVID-19 in the UK in early March, died in the same hospital where his daughter and son-in-law both worked in Toronto. Although they worked as doctors at the hospital where he was a patient, they could not be with him in his last moments.

“It was incredibly difficult and incredibly traumatic,” her daughter, Noreen, told CTV News. “It’s going to take a long time to get over the feelings that have gone through this.”

Cory said when people are unable to have that human connection at the end of a loved one’s life, it can prolong and complicate grief due to the lack of closure.

“It increases the risk of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts,” she says. “So it’s extremely important for us to be able to respond to that.”

Across the country and around the world, individual efforts are being made to mark this unseen grief, such as the COVID-19 memorial blanket project.

The monumental project will assemble 12-inch squares with the names of all the lost, if the families give their consent.

“We’re creating an individual square for each person we’ve lost in Canada,” Heather Breadner, one of the knitters behind the project, told CTV News.

They aim to be able to show the art installation in January 2021, on the anniversary of the first suspected case of COVID-19 in Canada, but will need to quilt quickly. Already, the blanket is expected to measure over 9,000 square feet and weigh around 680 kilograms, according to their website.

“Family members from different provinces can visit it, they can touch this square […] and know that someone was thinking of them, and knit this square to represent a family member or loved one who has been lost, ”Breadner said.

Grief is distinct from depression and stress, although both can result from grief, which means that resources to support mental health can sometimes leave out those who are grieving and struggling to cope. manage it.

With grieving rituals so disrupted by COVID-19, the Canadian Virtual Hospice has created the Canadian Grief Alliance (CGA), a group of national grieving leaders who work to strengthen bereavement services. They have nearly a thousand organizations, regional and national, and individuals have signed up.

On May 12, the CGA presented a proposal to Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, outlining an action plan to help grieving Canadians that included investing in national bereavement programs and launching public awareness campaigns – but say they have not received a concrete response.

“The measure of a country is how it reacts in its darkest days, and I am really concerned that there is no national response from the government to the lack of bereavement services, and for those in mourning, ”Cory says.

“These are the darkest days.”

With files from Ryan Flanagan

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