Suzanne Sylvestre’s grandfather waved at her over FaceTime from his long-term care home in La Loche, Sask. She blew him a kiss and he caught it and held it to his heart.
Joseph Pierre Sylvestre’s care home was already in lockdown on Easter Sunday; that last time they spoke. Four days later on April 16, he tested positive for the novel coronavirus and was immediately moved to a North Battleford hospital.
Ten days later, the 83-year-old died from COVID-19 complications.
Joseph Pierre Sylvestre was the first casualty of the novel coronavirus in the far north of the province — now dealing with an outbreak that has been traced back to an oil sands camp in northern Alberta.
“COVID-19 is serious and we have to bring the word out there to our northern people,” Suzanne Sylvestre said in a video posted April 27 and taken in a sparsely populated parking lot of the Eternal Memories funeral home in North Battleford.
“If you guys don’t want this to happen, standing in line going to see your loved ones, stay home, stay safe and practise social distancing.”
Suzanne Sylvestre, named for her grandfather’s late wife, said she was extremely close to him.
“I always made time to see my grandpa,” she told Global News over Facebook messenger.
“I would stop by to even say, ‘Hi,’” she wrote, adding she last saw him in person on Feb. 25, before the novel coronavirus was reported in the province and before restrictions were placed on visitors to long-term care homes.
Nicknamed Bannock, Joseph Pierre Sylvestre worked doing odd mechanical jobs. He loved poker, bingo and his family and friends, his granddaughter said.
“We all adored him,” she wrote.
“He was a respected elder and loved by so many and I’m thankful for each and every one of them who were a part of his life.”
The community pulled together to help purchase a special casket.
Suzanne Sylvestre wants to extend her gratitude to “everyone who helped with donations.”
Under normal circumstances, there would have been a three-day wake, she explained, “so family and friends get to say their last goodbyes.”
In the evenings, with everyone gathered, there would have been prayers over rosaries, and again in the mornings.
The family would have dug his grave and assembled for a funeral. After laying him to rest, they would have gathered for a meal and to share stories.
“None of that happened,” she wrote.
“We didn’t have the right burial for him.”
Instead, they gathered at socially safe distances in the parking lot of Eternal Memories. Three people were permitted into the funeral home at a time and allowed 15 minutes to pay respects.
“This was how we had to meet up to see him one last time,” she explained over Facebook messenger.
There are currently more than 100 cases of COVID-19 in far north of Saskatchewan.
Local leaders have come together under the 155 Collective, a group working to develop the unique and necessary supports to help the rural and remote Indigenous communities in the region through the pandemic.
“It’s gotten past us. We thought we were as ready as we could to try and mitigate the spread,” said the group’s incident commander, Rick Laliberte, in a phone interview from Beauval, which is now also dealing with an outbreak.
“Our communities are in full lockdown now to try and isolate the virus,” he said.
The 155 Collective is echoing Suzanne Sylvestre’s message to residents of the far north.
“What we’re asking for people to realize (is) that we’re not isolating people, we’re not isolating relatives,” Laliberte said.
“It’s the virus that we’re after.”
Laliberte said he didn’t know Suzanne Sylvestre’s grandfather, but extends condolences to her family.
“It’s devastating to lose a person at this time, under these situations. As well, how the grieving process has been impacted is also a double kicker so to speak,” he said. “It’s very hard. It’s a very hard time for families right now.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
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