Some might say you can't die of loneliness or a broken heart, but Corinne Tulk doesn't believe that.
The western Newfoundland woman blames her mother's death on the isolation caused by pandemic restrictions.
Tulk's mother died suddenly on May 3, at the age of 70, less than three months after her husband's death.
"COVID-19 did not invade my mom's body, but I know COVID-19 took my mom's life," said Tulk.
"She died of a broken heart, and nobody can convince me otherwise."
The sudden deaths of both her stepfather and her mother this year has left Tulk questioning whether she made the right decision to stay away from her mother in what would turn out to be the final weeks of her life.
The grief and loss began in February for Tulk, when her stepfather, Daniel Bruce, suffered a seizure and died just a few weeks before his 65th birthday.
Tulk's stepfather and her mother had been together for 33 years, and Tulk called him "Papa."
His passing happened a month before the coronavirus arrived in Newfoundland and Labrador, so travel and funeral arrangements were unaffected.
But after family members from outside the province, including Tulk's sisters, returned home, and the pandemic came to this province, Tulk's mother, Audrey Peddle, was left to live alone and to come to terms with the loss of her husband.
"She was still grieving. They'd been together for 33 years and, all of a sudden, she's in her home alone, trying to deal with that emptiness and that loneliness," said Tulk.
Tulk said she called and videoconferenced with her mother every day and, most days, dropped by to visit from outside her mother's home.
But due to pandemic restrictions asking people to stay in their own household bubble, Tulk did not go inside.
Tulk said her mother would plead for her to come in and to give her a hug.
"I kept explaining to her, 'Mom, you know the rules. You know what the government is saying.… We have to keep our distance to keep this virus away," recalls Tulk.
"It's the hardest thing I've ever in my life had to do. But I thought I was doing what was best for her."
Tulk said her mother had always been a person who loved to be with others, and she found being alone very hard. Tulk said her mother often told her that the loneliness was worst during the long evenings and because the weather was still not warm enough to be outside much.
Struck by grief again
Tulk said her mother was on medication for high blood pressure and cholesterol but was otherwise in good health.
The two women had another visit through the doorway on May 2, as had become their habit, and that would be the last time Tulk would see her mother alive.
On the morning of May 3, she called her mother's number repeatedly but got no answer. It was their habit to talk on the phone every morning, so Tulk concluded that something bad had happened and she left for the five-minute drive from her home in Kippens to her mother's place in Stephenville.
I kept thinking about how she wanted that hug. - Corinne Peddle
"The moment I pulled into the driveway and seen the curtains closed, I just knew something was seriously wrong with my mom," said Tulk.
Tulk unlocked the door to her mother's home and let herself in. She found her mother lifeless and unresponsive. Tulk could find no pulse, and dialled 911.
Then, Tulk said she knew what she wanted to do next.
"I crawled in bed with her.… I kept thinking about how she wanted that hug," said Tulk.
"So, that morning, when I found my mom gone, knowing that I could no longer hug her … I crawled in bed with her, and I held her until the paramedics got there."
Doctors concluded Audrey Peddle had died of natural causes at the age of 70.
In less than three months, Tulk had lost two parents.
Tulk said grieving the loss of her mother has been even harder than the grief when her stepfather died because, in early May, due to COVID-19 restrictions, there was no way to have a funeral or celebration of life that could include her two sisters and their families, who live on the mainland. She said a proper farewell will be planned for a date when everyone is able to be together again.
In the meantime, Tulk is left to second-guess how she might have helped lessen her mother's feelings of isolation in those last weeks of her life.
I thought I was doing the right thing. - Corinne Tulk
She now thinks there might have been ways to protect her mother and herself, using a mask and gloves, that would have given her mother the contact she was looking for and needed.
"I thought I was doing the right thing. Today I don't know if I'm right," said Tulk.
"I don't know if staying away, from especially our senior population, I don't know if that's the right thing."
Tulk wrote an open letter to Health Minister John Haggie earlier this month, asking him to listen to people who are concerned about how isolation is affecting their senior relatives.
She hopes telling her story will make everyone more aware of the dangers of loneliness, and that people will make an effort to reach out to people who are living alone or grieving, or both.
"Yes, we are in the midst of a very serious health crisis. But my biggest fear is the mental health crisis that's going to come," said Tulk.
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