Losing a loved one is a difficult process at any time, but as Kym Mozelack found when she recently lost her mother, grieving and finding closure during the coronavirus pandemic can be that much more so. With hospitals limiting access due to COVID-19 and social distancing the order of the day, being with someone during their end of life journey is very different today from what it would’ve been a month ago.
Mozelack’s mother, Verna Catherine Young, went into cardiac arrest at her home in late March, unrelated to COVID-19, and was taken to University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center, in Towson, which is where the family first ran into how things were going to be different.
“They weren’t able to see her. They waited for probably two hours to get some info,” Mozelack said. “They took her to the ICU and two family members saw her has they were wheeling her up.”
That quick glimpse was pretty much the only time the family saw Young before it became an end-of-life situation. Only then, once it was decided Young would go off a ventilator, was the family able to visit it her, two people at a time. Mozelack’s bother and sister were with Young when she died March 31.
“That was very difficult that the whole family could not be with her there at the end,” Mozelack said. “One of her biggest fears, a week or so prior to her passing, was her getting sick with this virus and being alone in a hospital room.”
And when it came to for the viewing and funeral service, the limitation on gatherings of more than 10 people meant the family couldn’t follow Young’s wishes at the end.
“My mother was Catholic, so she wanted the big Catholic funeral. We were unable to give that to her," Mozelack said. “There were her spouse, her children and her grandchildren, but even her sisters — she had three — couldn’t go, because there wasn’t room.”
Difficulty of saying goodbye
It’s something that’s affecting anyone who has to say goodbye to a loved one during the pandemic, according to Dave Meador, a funeral director with Myers-Durboraw Funeral Home, in Westminster, and it is a challenge for everyone.
“It’s a tough time for families,” he said. "It’s sad that many folks obviously have a lot of friends who aren’t able to come and see them. It just is not possible and it’s not happening."
Myers-Durboraw is only offering graveside services during the pandemic, and is taking other precautions, including limiting the number of meetings they have with people.
“Usually an arrangements conference is two hours with people, and often the whole family shows up and there will be 10 to 15 people in the room. Well, we don’t do that anymore,” he said. “Now it’s just a matter of meeting to finalize things briefly, to sign some paper work, give some instructions, those sorts of things.”
At Burrier-Queen Funeral Home & Crematory, in Winfield, they have taken to livestreaming funeral services for additional family members, according to Funeral Director Tyler Moser.
“We can only have 10 people here, but anybody can log on and see the service,” he said. “We are also posting the video if you are not available to watch at the time of the service, we are posting on our website for about a week.”
It’s a temporary solution, Moser admits.
“But with the limited about of people, it’s tough. How do you pick who gets to come and who doesn’t?” he said. “We can help as much as we can.”
Meador’s primary concern, he said, is taking care of people, and that means keeping both the funeral home staff safe through social distancing and sanitation measures, and figuring out how to help families through an already difficult time made more difficult and still provide some sense of closure. It may not be fully possible until things change.
“What’s happening is we are keeping a list of the families that wish to have a memorial service or celebration of life that’s open to the public later, after this is over,” Meador said. “We know it’s going to get very busy.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted larger, social acts of grieving and healing, leading to the cancellation of what was to be the sixth annual Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office Drug Overdose and Prevention Vigil on April 28.
“My hope is that we can get it rescheduled,” State’s Attorney Brian DeLeonardo said. “One of the difficult aspects during this time for many families, regardless of how they pass, is that inability to have the closure we have traditionally had.”
Once it becomes more clear when social distancing measure will be eased, DeLeonardo said, he hopes to be able to reschedule the vigil, or, at least, in some way bring the community together for what has become a ritual that holds value for many people.
“We are also looking at some mechanism to do that in a more virtual fashion, so it would still provide that forum for those that are grieving and wish to still have that connection,” he said. “I think it’s very meaningful event to the community and it will happen, it’s just a matter of when and how.”
Seeking comfort in a time of social distancing
Virtual connections have been the order of the day for Jessica Roschen, a bereavement counselor with Carroll Hospice.
“All of our counseling sessions, our groups, are postponed through May, so we have been calling people and tying to be there for them in their grief,” she said. “In every conversation COVID-19 comes up as well, since that is a grief situation, so we have been trying to support them in the loss of their loved one and with the stress of the social distancing — at a time when you need people the most, you can’t have people around you.”
Still, Roschen said, “we really miss the face-to-face interaction and it’s definitely not the same on the phone, but I think people still get a lot out of the phone calls.”
Roschen and other counselors at Carroll Hospice don’t just work with families who have lost someone at Carroll Hospice, but offer free grief counseling to members of the community as well, something she said hasn’t been happening as much recently.
“I think people are maybe working through this on their own, or they maybe waiting until it’s a safer time to reach out," she said. But, “We are still available by phone if they need us; please call: 410-871-8000, and our receptionist can direct you.”
Given the disruptions to the the normal grieving process, Roschen said, she believes some people may need more support than otherwise through that journey.
“I think for a lot of people their grief is going to be more intense,” she said. “It could be prolonged, especially if you have to put the service off and wait.”
When all this passes
For Mozelack and her family, there’s been a combination of waiting — and finding alternatives.
The night before her mother’s funeral, Mozelack said, “somebody from her church ended up doing a prayer service or vigil through Zoom, and I believe there were 125 logins for this service.”
With so many people outside the family able to share things about Young, the whole family learned so much about her they might not have otherwise, a silver lining, Mozelack said.
“If we had had a funeral, we might have had a few people that might have gotten up and spoken. So maybe not as many as on the Zoom vigil,” she said, though it still wasn’t the same as a funeral. “I think it’s probably a best-case scenario replacement.”
In the end, the virtual, while still meaningful, may not replace the personal, and so Mozelack and her family are looking ahead.