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Blasdell mom's journey through grief and unemployment during COVID-19

Posted at 12:00 AM, May 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 00:32:36-04

BLASDELL, N.Y. (WKBW) — A heartbreak followed by a struggle. That’s how the past two months have gone for Robin Biel.

This past February Biel’s mother, Carol Buttery, celebrated her 70th birthday at Mercy Hospital while recovering from a stroke.

“We did the best we could. I pureed the cake for her because she was on a puree diet. I pureed pizza, I pureed chicken wings because eating hospital food for so long she was tired of it,” Biel said.

Biel and her son, Tyler, were by her mom’s side every step of the way. The virus that has uprooted countless lives across the world completely changed life for this Blasdell family of three. In mid-February, the beloved grandmother of four moved to an East Aurora nursing home for rehab.

Robin is a dental hygienist. She was afraid of exposing her mother to COVID-19 if she brought her home to recover due to her line of work.

“I started to get scared,” Robin said of the entire situation.

In the midst of worrying about her mother’s health, Robin was furloughed. The single mother filed for unemployment benefits in mid-March. She spent hours calling the New York State Department of Labor several times a day to file correct paperwork. This as she also balanced her mother’s health as the pandemic began to take hold of the Western New York community.

Biel said: “I asked her, ' Mom, what do you want me to do? Bring you home? ' And she said, 'No honey, I don’t want you kids to get this.' "

She was healthy at first, but things for Buttery quickly took a turn for the worst.

“This is my mom, okay. This virus is real,” Biel said holding back tears.

The matriarch who adored her family, animals and old western shows passed from COVID-19 on April 15th. Biel’s world suddenly stopped.

“You can’t get your mom back. You only get one,” Biel said.

The hardest part of it all, Robin said, was having to go through this alone. No family or friends were allowed to simply give her hug.

“I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. I would not wish this on my worst enemy. It has been a nightmare. Quite literally a nightmare,” Biel said.

As she was grieving the loss of her mom, Biel put off the stress of trying to get unemployment.

“It’s beyond hard. It’s indescribably hard,” Biel said.

After several weeks, at the beginning of May, she filled out the PUA survey. Biel said she overthought the answers leading her to get denied for unemployment. All of her calls to the Department of Labor went unanswered. The single mother was stuck. She had no income for seven weeks as she faced the reality of caring for her 17-year-old son and two furry loved ones.

“I felt like my government failed me. Where are they? I worked hard. I paid my taxes and now I’m desperately in need of your help and I received no response. I mean it’s beyond infuriating,” Biel questioned.

7 eyewitness news reached out to the Department of Labor on Biel’s behalf. A week later, Biel had her benefits.

“That helps. It does. It takes some of the pressure off,” Biel said. She still has questions for the department and she’s anxious about the stability of the future on unemployment.

“They need to fix this for people because it’s too much. People are at their breaking point,” she said.

Biel’s message to others who may be going through the same struggle is to stay strong and stay patient.

“And to just hold your loved ones tight because this can happen to anyone,” Biel said.