For nearly a decade, Kim McCormick sat beside her mother through hospital stays and health conditions such as strokes, brain aneurysms and several rounds of surgery in between.
McCormick, 60, of Sanger, promised to always be there for her and said their relationship was inseparable. But when her mother, Christine Simpson, died on Mother’s Day from complications of the coronavirus, McCormick said that because of the disease, her promise was robbed.
“The struggle I had was watching her go down every day; she had pulled through so much until [COVID-19],” McCormick said. “I was always there, but I couldn’t, and this disease took that away from me.”
As 33 Denton County residents and more than 1,500 Texans have succumbed to complications of the disease, added hardships have been experienced by those left to grieve such as McCormick.
Brandi Felderhoff, a licensed social worker and counseling professor at Texas Woman’s University, said under the veil of the pandemic, traditional processes of grieving have changed. Felderhoff, who specializes in nursing home and end-of-life settings, said a lack of connection is a significant loss.
From not being able to say a proper goodbye to being unable to congregate in groups to console each other, “everything has changed,” Felderhoff noted.
“There are so many pieces that are stunted or wiped out because of COVID-19 restrictions, but it has significant impacts on our mental health, which is ultimately what unaddressed grief boils down to,” Felderhoff said. “If we are not able to fully grieve and move through the stages of grief, then that can develop into depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.”
Simpson, 77, a former resident at the Denton Rehabilitation & Nursing Center, was described by her daughter as “spunky” and someone who loved to play bingo in addition to the slot machines at WinStar World Casino. She was affectionately known to five grandkids and nine great-grandkids as “Nanny” — but to McCormick, “she was my best friend.”
With the exception of a handful of occasions, McCormick said she was distanced and isolated from her mother for seven lonely weeks before her death. In total, she was able to see her mother in person three times while she was hospitalized.
“The last time I got to see her was on FaceTime, but she wasn’t responding to me,” McCormick said of her last visit on May 9. “It was tough, because I needed to be with her, but I couldn’t, because she was coughing so hard.”
As the effects and restrictions of the pandemic rippled across Denton County, there has been significant confusion and uncertainty among the community about the limitations on funerals, said Bill DeBerry Jr., of Bill DeBerry Funeral Directors.
DeBerry, the senior mortician and owner of the funeral home, said whether a person died from the coronavirus or other causes, all services were restricted the same.
He said that because of social-distancing requirements and restrictions to public gatherings, funerals with large groups had to be rotated out.
But the more challenging part, he said, has been facilitating a comforting environment for those mourning.
“We were limiting families to viewing during standard business hours with 10 people or less at a time,” DeBerry said, and that many were disappointed the entire family could not attend or interact at the gravesite together.
In Denton County, he said funerals are a little more congenial, and a component of the healing process is the personal touch of another person, such as a hug, handshake or pat on the back. “We are missing that type of connection,” he said.
In spite of being surrounded by upward of 80 friends and family in staggered attendance, McCormick said only a few people could gather at a time and that her mother’s funeral was cold, lonely and bittersweet.
“I have a 5-year-old granddaughter who would go to the nursing home with me; she was their little mascot, and she’s the one struggling right now” McCormick said. “My other three great-grandkids had a hard time, too, and we did not really have that much closure, because we could not be around her.”
Feeling robbed of her promise and the closure of goodbye, McCormick said two aspects of her mother’s funeral brought a sense of comfort — being able to close the casket and having attendees drop a yellow rose in a vase.
“I had 15 days of laying here thinking, ‘What can I do to honor my mom?’ and those were the roses that she loved,” McCormick said. “So there was a lot of people that, instead of hugging me, they dropped a rose in a vase.”
However, she said that being able to close the casket brought the greatest comfort.
“She looked whole again and just looked so pretty, so I kissed her and told her goodnight and that I loved her, and that I would see her again — I felt like that was my closure,” McCormick said.
Although she is wary of what the future might hold and when a return to “normalcy” might be, McCormick’s wish is to honor her mother later this year with a “celebration of life.” While the date is subject to change, the goal is to have the celebration on her mother’s birthday on Aug. 21, she said.