Surviving 2021's other pandemic: Grief

Loss was one of the themes of 2021 as COVID shut down hospital visitor policies, even for people who were dying. In many cases, they died alone inside, leaving loved ones devastated on the outside. Here are their stories. 4 minute read December 30, 2021
michaluk family

Loss has been the pervasive theme of the pandemic. Eddy Michaluk, pictured with his wife Monique, died just three weeks after contracting COVID-19. SUPPLIED Supplied

It feels like COVID-19 has been the great unravelling. From Canada’s healthcare systems and the economy to our mental health and our careers, the pandemic has placed enormous challenges in front of us. We have been stretched in countless ways, but none more so than our ability to manage loss — not only the loss of life as we knew it, but also the loss of our loved ones, the worst loss of all. In fact, things are so dire, advocates have called for a National Grief Strategy. Compounding the pain and sadness was an unforgiving pandemic that forced healthcare facilities to revise, even eliminate, visitor policies, keeping families away from loved ones who were ill in hospital — and for too many, robbing them of the chance to say a final goodbye.

This past year, we heard from many Canadians who were working through devastating grief, some processing anger and guilt over not being able to be by their loved ones’ bedside while they were dying, while others shared beautiful final moments with their special people. Here are a few of those stories.


‘The last time I saw him, he was on a ventilator’

In the weeks leading up to Tien Le’s death, his wife and children were not allowed to visit. SUPPLIED

“If he was at end of life for several weeks instead of 24 hours, we should have been able to see him every day,”  said Tien Le’s daughter Van.

Tien was hospitalized at the beginning of the pandemic to investigate a suspicion of cancer. He remained in hospital after complications following surgery. While Van and her mother were allowed sporadic visits, when doctors knew Tien was not likely to survive 24 hours, she says her family wasn’t told or given the opportunity to see him, to say goodbye, to begin to prepare. To complicate matters, Tien didn’t speak English, and Van had no way of knowing if her father received help with translation in the days leading to his death. The last memory she has of her dad, 56, is of him on a ventilator, barely responsive, minutes before he took his last breath. Read more


The grief comes in ‘bits and pieces when I least expect’

Hilda Fox

Hilda Fox was a former teacher, loved music and had an active social life. SUPPLIED

Alanna Fox’s mother Hilda, 74, was diagnosed with gall bladder cancer in late February 2021. Though Hilda didn’t live long after the diagnosis, passing away on April 5, Fox was able to spend time with her mother and brother in the palliative care wing of a Montreal hospital. Fox is still mourning the loss of her mother, a former elementary school teacher and social butterfly. But she feels lucky that she was still able to say goodbye, knowing that many people weren’t afforded such opportunities for closure during the COVID-19 pandemic, where visiting rules differed between institutions and provinces. Read more


‘I thought he had a few more days, weeks, even’

michaluk family

Eddy and Monique Michaluk. SUPPLIED Supplied

On March 21, 2021, Sophia Michaluk lost her father Eddy after he came down with COVID-19 — one week before his vaccination was scheduled. Within three, he would succumb to the virus. Sophia found ways to cope with the loss, and how to rebuild – along with her mother, Monique — family, a career and a home. Read more


‘The pandemic stole my chance to say goodbye’

Anthony and Lisa Machado

Anthony and Lisa Machado. SUPPLIED

When Healthing executive producer Lisa Machado’s brother Anthony had a recurrence of liver cancer in the middle of the pandemic, she was no longer allowed to be there with him as he waited for painful tests and worrying scans. She joined appointments by phone, but often the background noise was too loud, and she either couldn’t hear the comments from his specialists, or it was difficult to interrupt and ask questions. She also missed out on reading their faces when they talked about prognosis. Read more

To everyone who trusted us with their very emotional and personal stories of loss — the ones we printed and also the ones we received by email — we send our sincere condolences once again to you and your families. Our thoughts are with you as you miss your special someone this holiday season. 

For more stories on grief, including a psychotherapist’s guide to surviving loss, click here.