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Burying loved ones during pandemic a painful and challenging experience

With The Bahamas experiencing its second wave of COVID-19, family members said laying their loved ones to rest at such a critical time in the country has presented unforeseen challenges and making the process of grief a difficult one.

Petra Ferguson, 30, who was pregnant at the time, learned that her father, Prince Gifford Ferguson Jr., 51 was exposed to the virus at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) and became critically ill.

Her father was admitted to hospital in December 2019 with a series of underlying health conditions.

In fact, she said her father was diagnosed with kidney failure after being admitted to the hospital.

“I was distraught,” Ferguson said.

“When I got the news about him testing positive I wasn’t sure if I was hopeful. We were worried. We were anxious. Considering the fact that my dad was diagnosed with all those non-communicable diseases, I knew there was a high possibility he [wouldn’t] possibly survive COVID-19.”

Although the virus was rampant at the time, Ferguson said she did not expect this outcome from her father’s illness.

Four days after her father tested positive, his conditions began to take a turn for the worst and he died on April 23, she said.

“My dad died a few days after testing positive,” she said.

She added, “I would usually talk to him every day while he was in there. He died on Thursday, but I had not spoken to him since Tuesday. After his last dialysis treatment on Wednesday, the nurses said he got really low.”

As the next of kin, she said she was burdened with planning a funeral service for her father during her pregnancy.

During this time under the emergency orders, only 10 family members and one officiant and essential mortuary staff were permitted to attend a funeral.

With no insurance money to bury her father, Ferguson was forced to seek help from government agencies, the community, and other family and friends for support.

“Funerals are already expensive,” she said.

“When a family member does not leave any finances behind, it is a lot to take on. It became stressful. We were able to get assistance from Social Services and NIB. I even walked door to door to help with funeral expenses.”

Ferguson’s father was buried five weeks after his death, but she found herself in the hospital during that time to give birth to her daughter.

“My dad ended up getting buried five weeks after he died,” she said.

“That carried straight into my due date. I was really concerned about that. I really wanted to be there to watch my dad go down. The fact that I was going to miss the funeral, that dampened my mood so much. I couldn’t accept it. My last view of my father was at the funeral home while making arrangements for the service.”

Another resident said burying their loved one during the pandemic was a “painful experience”.

Ashton Butler, 25, lost his mother in April to Rheumatoid arthritis on April 6.

Butler said he understood why the restrictions were in place, but it made the situation a “horrible” one. He said what made circumstances worse during this time, was that due to government health restrictions, he was unable to grieve properly.

“We knew the government already issued a maximum of 10 people allowed to the funeral,” he said. 

“It was just a lot of phone calls and no visits. You know people usually come over and give their condolences, just people expressing their sympathies. It was none of that.”

“We had the funeral. We coordinated with the church to make sure it was a clean and safe burial for everyone. We didn’t want to jeopardize anyone else’s families. We didn’t force anyone to come. Some people pull their cars in the parking lot to watch from a distance.”

Butler said it was far from a normal burial with heavy restrictive measures in place.

“We weren’t able to get a real celebration of my mother’s life,” he said.

“I didn’t get that grieving process out of me. I did not have time to reflect on the good times, not even from other people.”

Eric Rose lost his 87-year-old mother during the pandemic.

Rose said despite the government’s restrictive measures on funerals, the process of burying his mother was not difficult.

Noting that his mother was a well-known community and church leader, he said most people were looking forward to attending the funeral but were unable to do so given the limited number of people allowed to attend the funeral service.

“I know a lot of people who wanted to say something or be there but couldn’t,” Rose said.

“Because my mom affected so many people over the years, I knew people were looking forward to it.

“We were grateful that the reopening of the country happened. It allowed people to say their goodbyes and pay their respects.” 

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Italia Clarke

Italia Clarke joined the Nassau Guardian in August 2020. Clarke covers national, human interest and social issues. Education: University of The Bahamas, BA in Media Journalism

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