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Life Without Maury: How Coronavirus Has Changed The Grieving Process

Maury and Maureen Connors of Pinellas Park.
Maury and Maureen Connors of Pinellas Park.

Coronavirus is changing the way people grieve.

Some were already dealing with loss before the pandemic locked them up in their homes. Others are feeling powerless, as they desperately await updates about their loved ones in critical condition. There are also those having to plan memorial services in the midst of this health and economic crisis. There are multiple sides to grieving during a global pandemic. 

Maureen Connors, 82, lives alone in her Pinellas Park home. It’s a fairly new situation for her. Maureen’s husband of more than 40 years, Maury, died two weeks shy of his 80th birthday in May of last year.

“I would describe it as some soulmates," she said.

Maury suffered from multiple ailments by the time he passed. When they met back in the 1970s, by total coincidence, Maureen was a former Catholic nun and Maury was a former priest.

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“I would say we had one of the best relationships you can have, and to the point that other people commented all the time,” said Maureen. “They loved the way we interplayed with each other.”

She’s been adjusting to life without Maury by going to grief counseling at Empath Health, and, for others in need, creating spiritual programs at assisted living facilities and setting up retreats for “the last third of life,” as she calls it.

However, coronavirus restrictions have completely halted this new routine Maureen managed to put together since Maury died.  She’s an extrovert who now has to stay in her empty home. On top of that, news of what critical COVID-19 patients are going through is triggering her.

“To see these people on ventilators -- I know it too well. I'm having flashbacks about that,” she said.

But given what’s going on right now, Maureen said she’s thankful for how it all happened.

“I'm grateful that it was last year, and not this year. If you go in the hospital, nobody can see you,” she said. “So as much as I hate losing him, I was able to be there every day for six or eight hours or more. I value that time we had.”

These days, critically ill coronavirus patients are laying in hospital beds, separated from loved ones. If they’re able to communicate at all, it’s through a phone.

Rev. Wayne Maberry is Tampa General Hospital’s chaplain. He said he’s finding ways to comfort coronavirus patients while maintaining a safe distance.

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“In the ICU, all the rooms have a glass outer door, so we're often offering a prayer for the patient, with the patient outside of the room,” said Maberry. “When there's a phone in the room, we can call in and talk with them and listen to them.”

Although he said if someone dies under these conditions, there’s only a limited sort of comfort that families can receive.

“It’s not a total and complete and satisfying peace,” he said. “I think in some ways, maybe the saying goodbye is a little more intense because it's not as intimate or personal.”

And as for the patients themselves …

“I think it’s a loneliness that comes with being apart from their family. I think it's just really hard, no matter who you're talking about,” said Maberry.

Keenan Knopke, president and CEO of Curlew Hills Memory Gardens in Palm Harbor, has been witnessing end-of-life rituals for 50 years working in funeral homes.

Coronavirus restrictions are changing what’s supposed to be a critical moment of closure for families in grief.

“What we're seeing in a lot of cases is here, families are saying, ‘Well, can we wait?’ Well, sure, you can wait. We've got a couple of families that are talking about waiting two and three months to have a service," said Knopke. "That's fine from our standpoint. In the meantime, they don't start processing that grief yet."

Some families don’t want to have memorial services under the condition of 10 people or less, spaced six feet apart. But for those who do, Knopke’s offering them a video streaming service.

Whether attending the service or joining by screen, there’s likely no hug, or a hand to hold.

As Maureen Connors faces the anniversary of her husband’s death coming up May 26, she said she’s been focusing on hope.

“I think as a woman of faith, I try to make sure that I keep trying to believe in something beyond this life," she said.

Connors is managing her own grief with video chats, her grief counselor, and a book club. She’s even stepped out of her comfort zone participating in a radio drama class.

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