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Caregivers for Compromise Continuing the Fight: Dealing with traumatic grief

Published: Mar. 15, 2021 at 4:22 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Phone calls and video chat instead of the touch of a hand. The COVID-19 pandemic has made technology the way many families said final goodbyes to loved ones.

Mental health experts call their experience “traumatic grief.”

It happens when there’s a sudden loss that can lead to symptoms similar to PTSD.

It’s often seen after tragedies sparked by violence; however, the pandemic is also triggering this profound sorrow for families across the country and in the Big Bend.

WCTV talked with three families that had loved ones die during Florida’s long-term care lockdown. Those rules took effect exactly a year ago last Friday, March 12.

While their final days were different, their families are all grieving the same.

They say they have a profound sense of loss, not just for their loved ones, but also for their final moments and the opportunity to give them a proper send-off.

Almost six years ago, the McCellan family let us into their lives, showing what it’s like caring for Nelda, who had Alzheimer’s.

Last March, Nelda turned 92-years old.

Seven days before Florida’s lockdown.

“I didn’t get to see her from March 7 until her death date which is May the 18th,” Belinda McClellan, Nelda’s daughter said.

Once a pastor, Nelda’s faith was a huge part of her life, but COVID-19 restrictions couldn’t allow Belinda to give her mother the type of funeral she envisioned.

“A funeral is not for the person that’s deceased. It’s for us. It’s for the living. And it’s a time to celebrate a great life. It felt like I didn’t give my mom what she deserved, and I felt robbed, if you will,” McClellan said.

Lori Crowe’s experience was different.

Her 93-year-old father, Stanley, was under strict lockdown at a South Florida facility.

In November 2020, with his health declining, she became his health care surrogate, later bringing him back to Tallahassee.

“They kept saying to me, ‘We’re just following Governor DeSantis’s rules.’ Well, we’re in his backyard and we’re following his rules as well,” Crowe said.

Soon after the move, Stanley was diagnosed with brain cancer. Because of her health care designation, Lori was by her father’s side until his death on December 17, 2020.

“I was able to stroke his brow. I was able to comfort him. I was able to do the things that humans do with their loved ones,” Crowe said.

Crowe knows she’s lucky to have that closure because right now, many families don’t.

“We can’t get this time back. We can’t,” Susan Rogers said.

Since July 2020, Paul and Susan Rogers have shared their push to visit Susan’s 99-year-old mother, Mae, in person.

They expressed their fears if changes didn’t happen quickly.

“It’s my fear. She’s going to die in there. And I won’t be there with her. And that’s a real possibility. Her sister died alone in New Jersey. Her daughters couldn’t be there with her. Died alone. And I don’t want that,” Rogers said.

In September 2020, life was looking up.

Florida’s latest emergency order allowing essential and compassionate caregivers back inside long-term care facilities.

This allowed the Rogers to have indoor visits with Mae.

“I said I can come in now. I’m here now. And she looked at me and she goes, you can? And I said Yeah, I can. She was so happy,” Rogers said.

But sadly, in late December 2020, Mae contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalized.

Christmas morning, the Rogers’ fear became a reality.

Mae Presutti died without her family by her side.

The pain was too raw to talk with WCTV on camera, but in an email, the Rogers shared their final goodbyes.

Susan said a nurse held up a phone to Mae’s ear. She said, “I told her, through tears, that I loved. And was so very sorry this happened to her.”

These are feelings that thousands of Americans painfully understand.

Many families are now trying to focus on the good memories because, as Susan writes, “If I dwell on the pain of the past seven months, it will break me.”

Since the pandemic started, more than 10,00 long-term care residents and staff have died of COVID-19 in Florida.

To put that in context, AARP ranks Florida the fourth-lowest state in the country for COVID-19 nursing home deaths per 100 residents.

However, many families said those stats don’t account for the other deaths this year.

Conditions that they said were made worse by the isolation and loneliness of the lockdown.

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