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Inside Sources: Be careful when talking to the bereaved about a loved one’s coronavirus death

MC ALLEN, TEXAS-July 20, 2020-A nurse treats a patients at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg, Texas, where hospitalizations and deaths have spiked this month. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY —  When speaking to someone about the coronavirus death of their friend, loved one or family member, it’s better to say too little than too much.

Deseret News reporter Lois Collins, who lost her sister-in-law on Aug. 6 to COVID-19, joins Boyd Matheson on Inside Sources to talk about how some coronavirus conversations can seem cruel.

Coronavirus death

In her article in the Deseret News, Collins reflects on the life of Bartola, her sister-in-law, who died in her 50s:

She spent more than a week in the hospital without visitors, except — one hopes — the affection and gentle touch of the doctors and nurses who tried hard to heal her. In the last days of her life, when a ventilator did her breathing, she was mercifully unconscious so she wouldn’t try to pull the tube out.

Collins said she posted on Facebook to a friend of the family that Bartola had died of COVID-19.

“One of his friends on Facebook was like, ‘I doubt it. How do they know it’s COVID? Everybody’s making up these COVID deaths. It’s a political thing.’

“And that’s really painful. It’s really hard not to inflict pain on someone who does something like that. It’s really hard to take a step back and go, ‘Well, no, it was lab-confirmed. They’re reputable labs. [The tests] have been verified. She died of COVID. We’re not guessing.

“He was like, ‘How do you know?’ She was my sister-in-law if it’s any of your business,” Collins said.

“Where people get the audacity to think that that’s their job to weigh in on something so personal and to make it political is just a sad commentary on where some people — others take a situation like that and use it to rally and have a different conversation,” said Boyd.

“There are very, very kind people out there,” Collins said. “It was an opportunity for me, too, as well though, to step back and say, ‘Where do I weigh in with my perspective when it’s maybe not as helpful as it might be? I’m trying really hard in all this to look at the pain that I might inflict.

“I have a tendency to go into grocery stores, and I see somebody with their little mask below their nose, and I want to say — it’s personal to me right now — ‘Hey, that doesn’t do you any good if it’s below your nose. Pick it up.’ And you just have to . . . not. It doesn’t help,” Collins said.

“And that’s always the great question that we should all ask before we really say anything: Is this helpful? Is it kind? Does it move things forward? Is it going to inflict pain? Or is it going to help make some progress?” Boyd said.

Mourning during a pandemic

“How do you properly pay tribute and memorialize someone in the middle of a pandemic?” Boyd asked. 

“We have not really figured that out yet,” Collins said. She writes about this subject in her Deseret News article:

COVID-19 has also complicated the questions surrounding a memorial. Honor her now or wait until spring and hope the risk will be substantially lower then? Her mother is in her late 80s, some of her siblings have risk factors and her son and his wife are still recovering from the after-effects of the virus, which they got as well.

“A lot of the mourning is pretty private right now,” said Collins.

“Mourning in public versus mourning in private are very different, especially given the family dynamics,” Boyd said. 

With coronavirus, Collins said, there’s a tendency for some to ask ‘Where did you get it?’ And that’s not helpful. 

“We don’t know how she [Bartola] got it,” she said. “The one thing that I take a special comfort in with her death in particular is that she was so sure that there was something after this life. Her very last post before they put her on the ventilator . . . She just gave a little prayer of thanks, a little public prayer of thanks to share with her family and friends. And that means a lot to me because it’s a lot harder to feel bad when you know that somebody was just feeling good about their future regardless of how it went.”

Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson can be heard weekdays from 11:00 a.m to 12:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.