BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — The holidays have always been a difficult time for those who lost a loved one, but this year, the loss of lives due to the pandemic combined with restrictions on gatherings is making many feel isolated and forgotten.
"It has been a nightmare. I've been talking with a grief counselor which I highly recommend," said Valerie Monahan from Kenmore.
In March 2020, Valerie's husband of 50 years, Walter, suddenly contracted COVID-19 and died two weeks later just as he turned 74 years old. "It is awful because it came out of nowhere," added his wife.
Walter Monahan's death was highly publicized as he was one of the first to succumb to the coronavirus in the Buffalo area. That made it hard for Valerie because reminders of what had happened were in all the news reports.
Valerie credits an outpouring of support from friends, family, her church (St. Joseph University Parish), and neighbors for helping her get through. She is now devoting herself to calling others going through the same thing to offer support.
"I just call up and say 'What do you need to tell me today?' And sometimes they just need to know that you are on the other end of the line," said Monahan.
Based on her own experience, Monahan said the best way to help is to perform acts of kindness without asking because the person dealing with a COVID situation is already mentally overloaded. "Say that you are coming over to shovel the driveway or that you are leaving a bag of groceries on the steps."
Not only are families who lost a loved one feeling alone, so are families with a relative in a nursing home who they cannot visit in-person.
Separation during the holidays is very concerning, said Sister Jeremy Midura, CSSF at St. Joseph University Parish in Buffalo. "I think that is huge because we have certain rituals that we are accustomed to," explained the Catholic nun.
Her advice if you know someone who has suffered a COVID loss or has a loved one they are unable to visit in a nursing home:
- Make an extra effort to call them so they don't feel alone and forgotten.
- Consider sending a card or note.
- Help them commemorate the life of a lost relative by doing something small, such as having a special light on in memory, or something larger to memorialize the person, such as making a donation in the deceased one's name.
"Every time I put my head to the pillow and try to close my eyes, I think of him in the room by himself," said Shawn Lis from Kenmore. He is stunned how quickly COVID-19 took the life of his 72-year-old father, James Lis, soon after Thanksgving Day.
"I lost my Dad who is the strongest man I have known," added his son.
Since he has been unable to visit his father in-person at the Schofield Residence in Kemore since March 2020, Shawn Lis would often drop-off food for his father - something he was ready to do on Thanksgiving evening but his father was not feeling well enough to eat.
Within hours the U.S. Air Force veteran and senior music fan was diagnosed with COVID-19 which quickly escalated in severity until James Lis died in the early morning hours of Saturday, November 28 - only a little more than 24 hours after he was diagnosed positive.
Shawn Lis is advising families with someone in a nursing home to make sure they stay connected to a loved one through whatever means they can, and to make sure 'end of life' plans' are finalized.
"Know exactly what your loved one wants done when the time comes, because as I found out, it can hit you like a ton of bricks in a matter of hours," explained Shawn Lis.
Both Shawn Lis and Valerie Monahan plan to make donations in memory of their deceased loved ones, but they are also strongly reminding the public to not take the coronavirus lightly.
"The fact that people don't think it is real is just insanity," added Valerie Monahan.