Calgary end-of-life organizations navigate restrictions during COVID-19 pandemic

Grieving families are grappling with how to honour their loved ones’ last wishes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s certainly an emotional roller coaster as anyone can imagine,” Ursula Serpico said. “Not just for my family but for the families out there.”

Serpico’s mother, Lucia, was admitted to Calgary’s Rosedale Hospice more than a month ago and since then, there have been drastic changes.

Under provincial regulations, hospices are closed to the public and only one person is allowed to visit at a time.

“Before, we were all able to gather around her and make her feel safe,” Serpico said. “We understand why there are so many restrictions in place.”

“We’re humbled that we’re allowed to still come in and visit.”

There is also a COVID-19 self-assessment screening tool for people who are entering the building and there are other social distancing measures in place.

“The visits are limited to the patients’ bedrooms,” Fiona McColl with Hospice Calgary said. “We have beautiful common spaces in the house but unfortunately visits have to happen in patient bedrooms.”

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“To have limits of the amount of people is very distressing not only to the patient but to the family,” McColl said.

Other organizations are also grappling with how to support families with COVID-19 restrictions still in place.

Despite the province’s relaunch strategy announced on Wednesday, still, no more than 15 people are allowed to gather in groups and people must remain at least two meters apart.

“We had lots of emergency planning already set up but we never thought it would go to his extent,” Jeff Hagel, president of McInnis and Holloway Funeral Homes, said.

“The inability for families to get together was nothing anyone ever expected.”

Hagel said McInnis and Holloway has modified some of its procedures to still allow families to hold services.

“When a family has more than 15 people we work with them to provide a rotating visitation,” he said. “Where they would schedule a time between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. maybe now it’s between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.”

Hagel said the funeral home is also broadcasting services over the radio.

“We’re able to broadcast the service from an FM radio station for people in the parking lot in their cars.”

“Families also have the option to have a video screen to be set up outdoors for those who are in attendance to watch.”

Serpico said she has discussed her mother’s last wishes with her family and although it seems unimaginable, they have a plan in place.

“We’re going to, as a family, follow the guidelines that are provided to us by the funeral home,” Serpico said. “I think it’s a learning experience for all of us.”

“We need to be able to stand still, stand firm and be as courageous as possible.”

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