Haunted by sorrow: Survivors feel 'empty' after losing family to virus
Eight months after her husband died of COVID-19, Rosa Marion said she has more good days than bad days. This particular day, the Friday before Christmas, however, was a bad one.
"I feel empty, I feel lost, I'm alone. The nights, I haven't been able to sleep well," said Marion, 69, of Central Islip, her voice mixing with soft sobs. "Some days I don't want to get out of bed."
Long Island had lost 4,602 people to COVID-19 as of Saturday, a rolling tally that seems to grow so quickly that individual names fly by in a blur. Many more people are living with the loss of a loved one. For them, this is a holiday season haunted by sorrow.
A team of sociologists writing in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that for each COVID-19 death, nine people will be affected by the loss. These people were defined as grandparents, parents, siblings, spouses or children. This "bereavement multiplier" suggests more than 41,000 Long Islanders are grieving over the loss of a family member.
Many could not be with their beloved in the final days. Funerals, if they were held at all, were often virtual, leaving family to watch on their phones. A vital part of the healing — gathering with loved ones — has been hampered by virus restrictions.
The grief is especially hard to bear during the holiday season, said Dr. Grace LaTorre, director of palliative care at Stony Brook Medicine.
"The pandemic has impacted the way we grieve," LaTorre said. "It's putting people at risk of 'complicated grief,' [in which] people can get stuck and are not able to move forward."
The survivors say the distress is made worse when they see others downplaying COVID-19, ignoring virus precautions such as masking in public and avoiding gatherings.
"It takes every fiber of my being not to get up and say, 'You're being stupid. Look what I lost,' " said Venus Maziarz, 60, of Mineola, who lost her brother, David Maziarz, in May.
Here are a few of the survivors' stories.
Rosa Marion, who lost her husband
The death of Rosa Marion's husband, Joseph Marion, came so unexpectedly, she said. He was only 74 and fairly healthy, she said. His COVID-19 symptoms emerged while he was in the hospital for a foot infection, she said.
For two weeks, Joseph Marion, who also was diabetic, was on and off oxygen treatments. It was April, a time when hospitals were flooded with virus patients and nearly 800 people were dying a day in New York. Her husband seemed to be improving. There was talk of him going home. Then Marion got the call, saying that her husband's heart had failed.
"I felt like my mind was so broken," Marion recalled.
They had been married 32 years and had five children and six grandchildren. Joseph Marion, whose nickname was "Poppa Duck," had worked as an aide at Pilgrim State Hospital and driven a school bus in Suffolk.
His body was cremated without a funeral. Plans for a memorial service at New Jerusalem Baptist Church in Brentwood, where he was baptized and the couple were married, were put off to 2021.
Marion entered into therapy. She says she doesn't leave the house unless she has to, due to concerns over COVID-19.
Marion said she's stopped watching the news. It's too disturbing, especially when she sees people flout the virus restrictions.
"It's almost as if they're not listening, that they think they're immune to it," she said. "It reminds me of people who do drunk driving."
Mary Lehmann, who lost her mother
Mary Lehmann recently received her daughter's high school graduation photos in the mail. For a second, she thought she should frame a copy for her mother. Then she thought again.
"You forget that she's gone, and then you remember and you start grieving all over again," recalled Lehmann, of Dix Hills.
Lehmann said even little things can trigger memories of her mother, Theresa Manning, 85, of Baldwin. Putting a pot roast dinner in the oven reminds her that she learned the recipe for roasted potatoes from her mother.
Lehmann recalled how her mother, who was in a nursing home, battled the virus. For almost two months, Manning fought and recovered, fought and recovered, going into the hospital three times.
Lehmann recalled nights when she would go to bed thinking, "I'm not going to talk to her again."
Her mother died on June 15. There was no funeral. The burial in Calverton National Cemetery was a drive-thru event, in which people pulled up, offered their condolences and drove away, she said.
"My mother went to church every Sunday. She went to Mass every week," Lehmann said. "And there was no church funeral. How fair is that?"
Lehmann thinks of the years ahead, all the weddings and holidays her mother will miss.
"My biggest regret is for my children," she said. "It's a big, big, big giant hole."
Bryan Chasanoff, who lost his father
Eric Chasanoff, 69, of East Islip, had been receiving dialysis treatments. Family members said they thought he had about five more years to live.
Then came COVID-19. He died May 5.
His son, Bryan Chasanoff, said he still feels the frustration of those days. The Virginia resident wanted to come to New York, but family members said he should stay at home, that there was nothing he could do, he said.
"We had a virtual funeral. Everyone dialed in," said Chasanoff, 38.
Chasanoff said he hears people say that most of those who die from COVID-19 are old and sick. What bothers him, though, is that some seem to say this as a way to downplay the deaths.
They don't know that when Eric Chasanoff's grandson refused to learn how to ride a bike, it was his calm and patience that finally did the trick. They don't know that the boy's father and mother had plans for the years ahead, Bryan Chasanoff said.
"COVID stole those years from us," he said.
Venus Maziarz, who lost her brother
Any other year, the Maziarz family would be going big for the holidays, including David Maziarz doing his famous fried turkey for Thanksgiving, said his sister, Venus Maziarz, of Mineola.
Not this year, though. David Maziarz, 53, of Islip, died May 29 of COVID-19. This year, most family members are just staying home, staying safe, she said.
"It's still very new to me," Venus Maziarz said. "I wish somebody would give me advice. I don't know what to try to make me happier."
Her brother was healthy, though somewhat overweight, she said. David Maziarz was a volunteer firefighter, Boy Scout leader and commissioner of a local football league, so the grief spread throughout the community.
When the family emerged from the Mass at the Church of St. Mary in East Islip, they saw a line of Boy Scouts, all in uniform, all saluting, she said.
Venus Maziarz still finds herself grieving.
"If you called me last night, I would have been crying," she said.
COPING WITH GRIEF
- Accept your feelings.
- Talk, journal or create something to express how you feel.
- Be mindful of what's going well.
- Create a daily routine with time for rest, healthy eating and physical activity.
- Focus on things within your control.
SOURCE: NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.