A week after their mother died of COVID-19, family still doesn’t know where her body is

“Where is our mom? Is she in a refrigerated truck? A crematorium?”

Wendy Paquette says not knowing the answer is preventing her from sleeping.

A full week after her mother, Barbara Paquette, died of COVID-19 at the long-term care facility at Montreal’s LaSalle Hospital, Paquette’s family still has no idea where her body is.

“It’s nightmarish. I can’t get the vision of the truck out of my head.”

The LaSalle Hospital residence is one of the CHSLDs (centres d’hébergement de soins de longue durée) in Quebec listed as being in a critical situation, with more than 50 per cent of its residents having tested positive for COVID-19.

As of April 16, 66 residents there have confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 15 others have died. The residence has a total of 115 beds.

Guillaume Bérubé, a spokesperson for the health agency for the region, CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, confirmed refrigerated trucks have been installed outside the LaSalle, Douglas and Lakeshore hospitals.

“If there’s a lack of space in the morgue, the refrigerated truck is an extension of the morgue outside the hospital,” he said.

He would not confirm whether the trucks are being used to store bodies now.

A refrigerated truck sits behind LaSalle Hospital as a contingency plan should the hospital’s morgue fill up. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

No chance to say goodbye

Barbara Paquette had been a resident of the LaSalle Hospital residence since 2018. She had Alzheimer’s and needed round-the-clock care.

Wendy Paquette said that other than her mother’s cognitive decline, the 84-year-old was in great physical health, with no other underlying conditions.

Barbara Paquette’s daughter describes her as a lover of music and a dancer. (Submitted by Wendy Paquette)

On March 30, staff called Paquette to let her know her mother had tested positive for COVID-19.

“We really felt that she was healthy, and she could fight it naturally,” Paquette said.

The next time staff called, however, it was to tell the family to prepare to say goodbye. 

Paquette said the procedures involved in getting permission to go to her mother’s bedside were explained to her. Even with all of the personal protective equipment, staff informed Paquette that she herself had an 80 per cent chance of contracting the coronavirus.

“We said, ‘Maybe we could FaceTime,’ and again, we were discouraged against that,” Paquette said.

“It was described to us as, ‘Do you really want to see her in that state?’ And [we were] told she was not lucid.”

In the end, Paquette and her family did not see her in person or through FaceTime.

Barbara Paquette died on April 9.

‘Closure’ impossible

In the eight days since, Paquette says the family has not heard a single word about her mother’s whereabouts.

“We are phoning and phoning and trying to get through to people, but they don’t pick up,” said Paquette.

“We need information to move forward as a family — for closure.”

Bérubé said the normal procedure is to inform the family immediately following a death and to ask if they have a contract with a funeral home, before the body is moved to the morgue.

Either the hospital administration or the funeral home then calls the family to make further arrangements.

Wendy Paquette’s mother Barbara died a week ago, after contracting the coronavirus in a Montreal long-term care home. Paquette still doesn’t know what happened to her mother’s body. 1:00

However, Paquette said when staff called to inform them of their mother’s death, they were told Health Canada would be the one issuing the death certificate, and that the family would be contacted.

In the confusion surrounding this pandemic, it now appears the family either misunderstood or were misinformed by the person who called them.

“We don’t have a funeral home. We don’t have a death certificate. We don’t have remains!” Paquette said.

“It’s very disturbing for us to even imagine that she’s somewhere in a refrigerated truck waiting. We don’t like to think of it like that, but it can very well be the reality.”

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