Mourning the loss of a loved one during the pandemic

On Saturday, March 20, my grandfather passed away at the age of 72 in the Brockville General Hospital following a non-COVID-19 related illness. Had this been a pre-pandemic funeral, there would have been a choir from St. Mary Catholic High School, where my grandfather served as trustee. Instead, our ears were filled with a recorded […]
Photo: Tanner Reil
"Although the situation was unideal, it reunited my family to celebrate my grandfather’s life. In a way, I am certain this is exactly what he would have wanted," writes the author.

On Saturday, March 20, my grandfather passed away at the age of 72 in the Brockville General Hospital following a non-COVID-19 related illness.

Had this been a pre-pandemic funeral, there would have been a choir from St. Mary Catholic High School, where my grandfather served as trustee. Instead, our ears were filled with a recorded playback of Amazing Grace and a pianist who would not sing.

Robin Reil touched the lives of many as a teacher, vice-principal, principal and finally trustee with the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario. He enjoyed summers at our cottage on Rideau Lake, sharing his faith, teeing off for a good game of golf, cheering on his beloved Montreal Canadiens and overall, as he often said, “living the dream.”

The loss of a loved one is never easy to cope with, let alone during these isolating pandemic times. Families across the world have lost loved ones over the past year. I am not alone in this strange time of grieving.

But with the less-harsh pandemic restrictions in the small town of Brockville, my family was still able to gather and grieve our loss together. Unfortunately, I know many families have not been as fortunate.

In our case, less than 60 were in attendance with COVID-19 restrictions in place. It was a different way of remembering his life, but it was much needed for my family.

My 2019 high school graduation would be one of the final achievements my grandfather and I would celebrate along with the rest of my family, before the pandemic struck.
My 2019 high school graduation would be one of the final milestones that my grandfather and I would celebrate together before the pandemic struck. Here we are with the rest of my family.

Upon entering the funeral home, immediate family gathered and prepared in a room typically reserved for post-funeral gathering over drinks and snacks.

Others in attendance were required by the funeral home to give information for contact tracing, sanitize their hands and proceed directly to the chapel.

The funeral itself consisted of a traditional service and eulogy, with everyone wearing masks. There was adapted seating spread around the chapel at a safe distance, in small groups of three or four.

Readers would step up to the microphone, remove their masks to speak, only to replace them and return to their seats afterwards.

There would be no wake, gatherings ahead of time, refreshments or much opportunity to converse and share our fond memories of Robin.

The service was live-streamed online for those unable to attend due to the number limit, distance, quarantine or other pandemic reasons.

I had the privilege of seeing family I hadn’t seen in months during a few small gatherings in the days leading up to the funeral.

My uncle, Eamonn Reil, who lives in Banff, Alta. was able to fly down and attend thanks to a negative COVID-19 test ahead of time.

I was able to see my father for the first time since my sister’s birthday five long months ago.

Although the situation was unideal, it reunited my family to celebrate my grandfather’s life. In a way, I am certain this is exactly what he would have wanted.

Much like many others in this same situation, my family is planning to hold a proper celebration of life in the post-pandemic times.

I look forward to the day we will be able to properly gather and mourn. In a time where we once again will be “living the dream.”

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