Insensitive COVID-19 comments ‘heart wrenching’ to Kingston women grieving two loved ones

A Kingston family, who has lost two loved ones to COVID-19 this year, share their anguish and frustration today in hopes that other families won’t be forced to go through similar experiences. 

Janet Carter, 70, and her daughter, Shannon Millikin, a local Personal Support Worker, say they are devastated every time they see social media posts from Kingston, Frontenac Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health about rising case counts that have negative comments and especially “laughing emojis” attached.

“It’s not something to laugh at,” says Carter, “Where is your empathy?”

“Sometimes I just want to bang my head against the wall, do you not get it?” says Millikin of individuals who claim that they won’t get the vaccine because they think it ” was rushed too fast and is not medically sound.”

Carter’s sister, Rosemary “Honey” Etue, 72, died in Windsor, Ontario last winter after a brief battle with the deadly virus. Then, just last week on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, Millikin’s husband’s family also lost a loved one, here in the Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington region, when a man in his sixties passed away suddenly at home from a stroke brought on by lack of oxygen to the brain due to COVID-19.

Millikin says her Aunt Honey spoke to a family member four days before pressing her medical alert alarm device, falling to the floor at her home, and being taken by ambulance to the hospital on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021.

“My cousin had spoken to her and she seemed a little out of it, she sounded like she had a cold, you know, not feeling very well and just not herself. The ambulance came, and my cousins went over and they had her go off to the hospital. They thought at first she had a stroke or something like that,” she shares.

Janet Carter says her sister Rosemary “Honey” Etue (pictured) died of COVID-19 on January 5, 2021, just one week before the vaccine would have been available to her. Photo Submitted.

“And then she was doing actually not bad. She was in the hospital, she was talking, she was her happy little self. On Tuesday, she asked for her credit card so she could get a TV in her room,” Millikin recalls, noting that, by this time, the doctors had determined her aunt hadn’t had a stroke, but instead had contracted COVID-19. “She was saying, ‘I’m going to beat this, don’t you worry, I’m going to be okay. Everything’s fine.’”

Sadly though, things took an awful turn, says Millikin, “By Wednesday afternoon, they needed to intubate her, and it was just so sudden, in a matter of 12 hours she was gone.”

“Once she was slipping, declining even more, the oxygen wasn’t getting to her vital organs. This is what people don’t get about COVID is the fact that, once you have no oxygen going into your body, everything starts to shut down. It affects every organ in your body,” she explains.

“So, when they told them that everything was shutting down, they said that she didn’t have very long to live and they also told my family that they couldn’t come to the hospital because of COVID, they would have to do FaceTime. And this is the hard part: my cousin had to set up her phone in the backyard… They had to spread apart in the backyard, six feet apart, and one by one go up to the phone and say goodbye. But they couldn’t really see her, all they saw was her chin and the ventilator, and it was really hard because all they wanted was just to see her.”

Millikin says, “it was very gut-wrenching because my cousin and my aunt were very close, just like my mom and me. We couldn’t be there to hold her hand or say that everything was going to be okay, and she just felt that [her mom] was going to be very alone. I don’t think people understand that; you can’t sit with your loved one when they have COVID. You have to say goodbye on FaceTime, or sit at home and get that phone call [like my mom did]. To say that she’s gone. So painful.”

Both Millikin and Carter express the painful process of losing a loved one to COVID is only made worse by these restrictions, however necessary they may be. And the process and restrictions can continue well after leaving the hospital, as well.

“The saddest thing about having to say goodbye to my aunt is that they had to wheel her out in the back of the funeral home in the parking lot. Cars had to park around her and they had to go up one by one to say goodbye because she had COVID,” Millikin says, her voice rising, “and they couldn’t kiss her, touch her, or anything. This is not funny. Far from funny. And I think people think that this is some government conspiracy. This is not just in Canada. All over the world, this is happening to families.” 

Carter says this is why she hopes unvaccinated people will hear their story.

“You don’t want to say goodbye on FaceTime — no, when it’s your loved one, you want to be there to hold their hand and say goodbye — you don’t want to say goodbye on FaceTime,” she conveys with a tremble in her voice, “And of course, we couldn’t be with my sister’s children and grandchildren and grieve with them.”

The loss of her sister has been surreal, says Carter, because the grieving process due to the pandemic has been so fractured, “We finally had a celebration of life for her on the sixth of November. We were all able to travel down to Kingsville as a family and we gathered together and had our final goodbyes that way.”

“You know,” she observes, “you get in denial of a person dying, especially when you’re so close to that person, and I would say ‘oh no, no, she says she’s just gone away for a bit. She’ll be back soon.’ But then when you do see the urn, and you do see the slideshow and you’re finally with your family to grieve, it becomes real and you do have some closure.”

The comments online and even in person regarding “COVID being a government conspiracy,” or “why get the vaccine if you are just going to get COVID anyway” have been devastating to Carter, who doesn’t know how her sister contracted the virus in the first place. “She had lung problems to begin with, but that did not take her,” she explains, noting this is where she has the most trouble with people who refuse to be vaccinated, “People need [to get the vaccine] because we have to protect our vulnerable: we have our elderly, and our kids, and ones that have health issues and everything.”

She says she sees some people say things online like, “Well, you know [that person who died] had cancer so they didn’t really die of COVID’ but somebody with cancer could have gone for treatments or chemo and lived even longer. COVID still took them.”

“If somebody was in a car accident and they had cancer, God forbid, they would say they died in a car accident not because they had cancer, you know?” she asks rhetorically, “It’s so hard for me to keep my mouth shut because I know what it is like losing somebody [to COVID].”

Janet Carter, third from left, and Honey, second from right, with their brothers and sisters in a happier time before the pandemic. Photo Submitted.

The snide remarks and laughter online compound the grief for Millikin who, despite all of the warnings about rising cases in the KFL&A Public Health region says, “My father-in-law lost his brother, who wouldn’t get [the vaccine].”

Her husband’s uncle, whose name we have withheld at the request of the family, “Was not feeling very well [last week] and thought he had a cold. He was having a hard time breathing, wouldn’t go to the hospital, wasn’t vaccinated, stubborn, thought, ‘I don’t need to be vaccinated why should I have to do this?’” Millikin explains.

“So, when he passed away suddenly, we all thought maybe he had a stroke. Maybe he had a heart attack. But when we found out it was COVID, we were dumbfounded. The way they explained it to my husband’s father is that he wasn’t getting enough oxygen and it caused him to have a stroke and it was COVID that caused that,” she says, indicating that the family does not know how or when the man contracted the virus.

“Even if you are vaccinated you can still get COVID, so why bother?” is another thing people say that bothers the family, Millikin says.

“My husband’s uncle could be very well alive today if he had gotten the vaccine. This is why: because if you are vaccinated you are far less likely to be very sick or die [from the virus],” she explains. “It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get COVID it just means that you more than likely will not be on a ventilator or in ICU or dead.”

The family hopes that people will take pause and think before commenting about the virus, both online and in person, and say that, in speaking out about their struggles, their goal is to explain the necessity of kindness, understanding, and most importantly, vaccination.

“If this article will encourage even one person in Kingston to get vaccinated,” says Carter, “That would be wonderful.” 


3 thoughts on “Insensitive COVID-19 comments ‘heart wrenching’ to Kingston women grieving two loved ones

  • December 1, 2021 at 4:23 pm

    I read the family accounts of Covid related deaths within their circle. Thank you for having the courage to do this- it is needed, if only for a jolt of reality. I agree that it is very disturbing to see laughing emojis following news reports of Covid deaths- it is both cruel and inhumane. The reasons for remaining unvaccinated are so silly and irresponsible that it is difficult for me to comprehend how their brains are functioning. People think “it will never happen to me” how utterly wrong you are. We all need to think of everyone and not just selfishly of only ourselves. Kingston’s Covid case count is at an all time high – that only happens because citizens have stopped being careful, stopped following rules and restrictions and now vulnerable people are once again at risk! I can only hope that people will get vaccinated and we all follow precautions.

  • December 2, 2021 at 9:05 am

    I am so sorry for your families losses, I really don’t know why people are still not understanding that this virus is very real. ?

  • December 2, 2021 at 10:05 am

    Very interesting article and so tragic for this family. My condolences to the family, this is not a laughing matter this is deadly serious! I hope more people will read this and get vaccinated. I am getting my booster in a few days, not taking any chances.

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