A few weeks after nursing-home visits were restricted nationwide because of the coronavirus, Mary Pavek’s 87-year-old mother died at a residential care facility in Boise, Idaho, though not from COVID-19.
Six weeks after her death, Pavek’s father, who was 92 and lived in the same facility, died, as well.
Pavek, who had been very involved in her parents’ care before the lockdown, believes their confusion and pain when in-person family visits ended contributed to their deaths. Since she could only be with them briefly while they were actively dying, Pavek prayed more for her parents while at her own bedside than at theirs.
As of late May, almost 104,000 had died from COVID-19 in the U.S., and 43% of the deaths occurred in residential-care facilities, according to Forbes magazine. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, restricted nursing-home visits nationwide this spring.
Whether or not families and friends can visit their dying loved one, the pandemic is affecting end-of-life experiences for many. Even if the dying person and their family and friends can’t be together, the need for prayer — and the effectiveness of that prayer — does not change.
“For God, there is no wall; there is no time; there is no space,” said Fernanda Moreira, who prays regular Eucharistic Holy Hours for the dying with the apostolate she started — the Cincinnati-based Apostolate for the Dying, which promotes these Holy Hours in prayer groups around the country.
“He’s always present, so no matter where you pray, no matter how you pray, God always hears our prayers and helps those that need them,” she said.
Even if not in person, families should find out their loved one’s end-of-life preferences and what the Church teaches about preparing for death, said Tammy Ruiz Ziegler, a Fredericksburg, Virginia, perinatal bereavement nurse who trained as a chaplain and blogs about end-of-life and other issues.
If the person is already lying in bed, she said, “I get a low chair and sit down and listen, so [dying] people are talking down to me and not up to me.”
Family members should make sure a priest has been notified to give the person last rites, Ziegler said, adding that priests, who come to administer the sacrament, can’t always be present for the entire death vigil, so families should consider how they can help spiritually.
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