Posted on: May 1, 2020 at 10:16 pm

The COVID-19 pandemic has now taken the lives of more than 230 thousand people across the globe. It has destroyed families and taken away thousands of people’s grandparents, parents, children, siblings, and friends. 

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Not only has the virus taken their loved ones away from them, but it has robbed the families of deceased patients of the chance to say goodbye, to hold a funeral, and to properly mourn their loss.

For some, their only option was to sit on the phone, listening to their loved one’s labored breath while they said their final goodbyes and waited for the fateful moment when the breath stopped. Others had no opportunity to say goodbye at all.

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A Goodbye Note

On April 22, after a 28-day battle with COVID-19, 32-year-old Jonathan Coelho passed away. He had spent twenty agonizing days on a ventilator.

The father of two had been showing signs of improvement, and doctors had begun discussing taking him off the ventilator. Five days later, however, his wife Katie got a call from a nurse at the hospital in Danbury, Connecticut, asking her to come over. He died before she could get to him.

When the hospital staff brought Katie into her husband’s room, she said he looked scared.

“He didn’t look peaceful and I just kept saying ‘I’m sorry.'”

They gave her a plastic bag of Jonathan’s belongings, and she decided that she wanted to go into his phone to retrieve all of the photos that he had of himself and his kids. What she found, however, was a heartfelt goodbye note from her husband.

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“I am so lucky it makes me so proud to be your husband and the father to Braedyn and Penny,” he wrote. “Katie you are the most beautiful caring nurturing person I’ve ever met. You are truly one of a kind…make sure you live life with happiness and that same passion that made me fall in love with you. Seeing you be the best mom to the kids is the greatest thing I’ve ever experienced.” [1]

Jonathan had written the note on March 29, the day before he was intubated. That was also the last day the couple had had a coherent conversation on the phone, as well as exchanging a number of texts.

That was four days after he had originally tested positive for the virus, and only three days after he was admitted to hospital because of headaches, coughing, stomach problems, and issues with his sense of taste and smell [1].

Pictures: COVID-19 Patients Struggle to Stay in Contact with Family or Even Say Goodbye Before Dying

They Took the Necessary Precautions

The couple, who had been together for seven years, had two children together: two-year-old Braedyn, and 10-month-old Penelope. Braedyn was born with cerebral palsy, along with several other medical issues, so the Coelho’s took the pandemic very seriously.

Because of their son’s medical complications, Katie stayed at home full time with the kids, while Jonathan worked as a parole officer. They were very worried about their vulnerable son, so, according to Katie, they went “above and beyond” to make sure they were following social distancing guidelines, and quarantining at home to keep little Braedyn safe.

Jonathan, however, was still considered an essential worker, so he had to go to work every day. He got tested for the virus on March 23 after being informed that he had come into contact with someone who had tested positive the week before, and one month later he was dead.

Read: The Workers Who Face the Greatest Coronavirus Risk

A Grieving Wife

Jonathan was a healthy man, with no previous medical conditions. 

“When you have heard of people passing, you read the stories and you almost look for a justification like oh, they were 65 years old or they smoke or have pre-existing conditions, but my husband doesn’t fall under any of these categories,” Katie said [1].

During the first few weeks of her husband’s hospitalization, nurses would FaceTime her so that she could talk with Jonathan. Since then, Katie has found herself replaying memories in her head to picture what the couple’s conversations would be for the day.

“It’s my only comfort, because I know him so well, I can hear him so clearly in my mind.” [1]

As she processes her grief, she is still uncertain as to how her children will react. 

“They don’t know that they lost the greatest human being and they’ll only know their dad through pictures and videos,” she said [1].

Read: Coronavirus symptoms start slowly, then might worsen quickly

Families are Robbed of a Proper Goodbye

Sadly, the Coelhos are just one story among thousands of others. Anita Coueffin-Cairns, in British Columbia, Canada, is mourning the loss of her mother-in-law who passed away in March. The family was unable to be with her during her final moments, and are not allowed to hold a proper funeral for the woman they loved so much.

“It’s like there’s no closure,” she explained [2].

Many families are now waiting for an unknown length of time to be able to have funerals for their deceased loved ones. Eleanor Widdowson, whose sister passed away from COVID-19, knows that it could be months, if not a year before the family is able to say their proper goodbyes.

“It’s just the tenseness, the emotional buildup, of not being able to say goodbye and knowing that they’re not at their final resting place,” she said [3].

Sonja Dove, a grief counselor for Hospice of North Idaho, has spoken with many families who have had to cancel memorials.

“[This] has, as you can imagine, deeply impacted their grief. I think there is a level of anger and hurt that comes with that.” [4]

She explains that grief, by nature, is an isolating experience, and the opportunity for families and friends to be together and grieve together is important. With social distancing and stay home orders in place, however, this is not possible, which prolongs the grieving process.

“Anger is a natural emotion in grief anyways,” Dove said. “But when something else over the top of what has already been taken away is amplifying that, there is even more to be angry about.” [4]

Read: What Will the World Be Like After Coronavirus? Four Possible Futures

A Warning to Others

Kate Coelho has shared her family’s story in hopes that she could show people the reality of how going to work cost her husband his life.

“My husband should not have died Wednesday morning,” she said. “But he did.” [1]

As groups across the country begin rallying to “reopen” America, Coelho wants her story to be a reminder of the dangers of being out in groups, and how easily the virus can spread even when only a small portion of the country is still going into work.

Katie describes her pain as “indescribable”, and doesn’t know how she and her children are going to live the rest of their lives without their beloved husband and father. A GoFundMe account has been set up to help the family during this difficult time.

Keep Reading: ‘Inseparable’ Couple Married 51 Years Both Die Of Coronavirus Six Minutes Apart

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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