My Experience with Losing a Family Member During Covid-19

When news first broke about Covid-19 making its unwelcome debut in China, I will admit that I didn't think too much of it. I had lived through the days of SARS, H1N1, and Ebola. Never in a million years did I think that Covid-19 would make its way to Canada so quickly, and immediately begin its rampage. I was extremely ignorant.

Then March came, and the world started shutting down. The malls closed, theatres closed, recreation centers closed, borders closed, flights were canceled, and many businesses had to shut their doors for good. Hospitals were not allowing any visitors unless a patient was deemed “end of life”. I wasn't allowed into my grandma's lodge, and we were not supposed to see our family and friends. It was and is still awful, although we have a small taste of 'normalcy' for the moment as the virus slows its roll.

Watching the news was horrible, in particular seeing what was happening in Italy and Spain. You might have seen the images of makeshift morgues being set up to accommodate what seemed like an endless amount of people succumbing to Covid-19, and I can't tell you why, but these images affected me the most. My heart felt so heavy for the families who lost loved ones during this time, whether due to the virus or to other circumstances, especially with funerals being postponed indefinitely. I remember saying to my husband, "I cannot imagine losing someone right now. How do you get closure when you're not allowed to see your family, and you can't lay your loved ones to rest"? Then, my brother died.

Let me tell you, losing my brother crippled me. He passed unexpectedly from a heart issue in mid-April, but before his physical passing, he lay in ICU for three full days. We were not allowed to visit him during this time, because they were waiting for test results to come back, and could not deem him as "end of life" until they saw the results. We knew he had experienced brain death, but until the doctor signed off, my brother lay there with no family surrounding him. On the second night of him being there, I was beside myself. I thought I was going to go crazy, pacing back and forth in my basement like a rabid animal. The nurse finally put the phone to his ear so I could talk to him. Of course, he couldn't respond. The only response was the sound of the ventilator in the background, which was keeping his body alive. It was excruciating. I'll never forget that moment, not ever.

When we received the call on the third day that his brain scan came back with zero activity, I almost lost my mind. However, at this moment his situation was officially classified as "end of life" and five people could go say goodbye to him. The five people could not go together; there was only one visitor allowed in the entire hospital at one time.

I was scared to go. In fact, I almost didn't. I was scared of potentially contracting Covid-19. I was also terrified because I didn't know what I would see. I didn't know what he would look like. I truly didn't think I could survive seeing my big brother in that situation, someone who I always saw as tough and invincible. But then, his best friend went to say goodbye. He called me to let me know that he looked just like himself, except on a ventilator. That helped me to make up my mind.

I arrived at the hospital shaking, in disbelief that I was saying goodbye to my sibling who protected me when I was little and helped to raise me. What's worse is that I was by myself. At that time, my grandma was not allowed to leave her lodge; she did not get to say goodbye. We have a very small family, so I called my cousin whom my brother and I have always been very close to and she met me after I was finished with my brother. She too, wanted to say goodbye.

Once I entered the hospital, I had to check in with the front desk. They then called ICU to notify the nurses that I had arrived. A security guard escorted me to the unit, who then passed me off to my brother's nurse. Upon entering the unit, I was made to put on a gown, goggles over my glasses, a mask, and gloves. This is how I would bid farewell.

Going into my brother's room, and around the curtain that was blocking him from my view is a memory that I wish I didn't have. But his friend was right; he was himself. He looked peaceful. I knew at that moment that he was already gone. I thought I was going to faint, but instead, I went and sat next to him. I held his warm hand through my blue disposable glove, but I couldn't feel the texture of his skin. His nails were perfect as they always were. He always had the healthiest nails, while mine flake away and are paper-thin.

I talked to my brother, somewhat muffled through my mask. I described to him how ridiculous the whole situation was, and berated him for passing away during a pandemic. He was always difficult so if anyone would die at such an awful time, it would be him. I joke about this because it makes me laugh, even for a second.

When I felt ready to leave, knowing that I would never see him again, I reached to touch his head. I couldn't quite reach him to give him a kiss with the ventilator in the way. It would've been hard with a mask anyways. I said my final goodbye, started to walk away, and turned back one more time. Then I left the room, took off all my protective gear and left the hospital.

Then came planning the funeral. We were allowed 15 people in total at the burial, but this included the priest. I had to make a very small list of people who could attend, out of the hundreds who cared about him. It was extremely difficult. We weren't to hug one another (although a few of us did), and of course we had to social distance. In the end, I think my brother would have wanted it this way. He would have wanted an intimate gathering of people who loved him unconditionally, rather than having a whole bunch of people who felt like they had to be there for show. The worst part though is that our grandma was not allowed to leave her building. She didn't get to say goodbye to him at the hospital, and she did not get to witness his burial. To this day, she has had no closure.

Losing a family member during Covid-19 has been the worst experience of my life, by far. Having friends come to give their condolences, while not being able to hug is torture. Not being with your family in fear of spreading the virus, makes it seem so inhuman. As of right now, I have not been able to see a therapist, which is something that I need. I realize that virtual therapy is an option, but this is not a method that I am fond of. I'm craving human connection. When the time feels right and I am able to, I will go.

If you have lost anyone during this surreal time in history, I am so sorry. I do not wish this level of pain on my worst enemy. Just know that like me, there are hundreds of thousands of people who have experienced loss in 2020, and it has undoubtedly been difficult to say the least. It brings me comfort knowing that I am not alone. I also feel mentally stronger than I ever have. I’ll be able to face anything that this crazy world throws at me.

I would like to say a special thank you to Krista at Evergreen Memorial Funeral Home in Edmonton. Your genuine compassion shone a bright light on an extremely dark time in my life. You did your job with such calm and grace, even though the circumstances were abnormal. I’m so grateful for your help with planning everything, and for listening to me as I struggled. You have chosen the right profession. Please continue to help families the way you helped me.

I’d also like to say thank you to the doctors and nurses in ICU at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. Although you knew what the outcome was before you could tell us, you treated my brother with such kindness, respect and dignity. It takes a special team to do your job, and I felt like my brother was in good hands, especially since I couldn’t be there. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

In Loving Memory of Bryan Bruyere: April 22, 1978- April 12, 2020

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