British Columbia

They were together 55 years. They died days apart after COVID-19 diagnosis

John and Helen Eberherr, who met at Christmas dinner in 1965, found out they both had COVID-19 on Christmas Day in 2020. They died just days apart.

John and Helen Eberherr died in same B.C. hospital, unable to see each other or say goodbye

John and Helen Eberherr spent 55 years together in Prince George, B.C. They died in hospital days apart in January. (Submitted by Tracy Glaicar)

A B.C. couple who met at Christmas dinner in 1965 found out they both had COVID-19 on Christmas Day in 2020. 

In the 55 years between those fateful holidays, John and Helen Eberherr had three children and five grandchildren, and were active members of their church and community in Prince George.

They died just days apart, unable to see each other or say goodbye while sitting in the same hospital. He was 85, she was 78.

At age 23, Helen moved from Kelowna to Prince George to work at the Royal Bank. John's sister also worked there, and invited Helen to spend the holiday with her family, including John, who took an immediate liking to his sister's new co-worker.

"My aunt always said, 'We knew that as soon as your dad met someone he liked enough, it was going to be quick,'" daughter Tracy Glaicar said.

Sure enough, John and Helen were engaged within a week, and married six months later.

A homebody whose wife refused to sit still

John and Helen were married June 25, 1966, six months after they met. (Submitted by Tracy Glaicar)

Joseph (John) Eberherr was born to homesteaders in Prince George in 1935. His grandparents wound up in the community after taking a wrong turn on their way to Kelowna and decided to stay.

John's father started a small sawmill, and John dropped out of Grade 7 to work there. He spent the rest of his career working for mills in the city while everyone else in his family departed for the Okanagan and the Lower Mainland.

"He was a homebody," Glaicar said. 

Helen put her career on hold to focus on raising Glaicar and her two brothers. Not content to sit on the sidelines, she would volunteer and get involved in her kids' lessons, learning to ski and teaching them how to swim.

"She actually drove me crazy," Glaicar said. "She could never just watch."

Helen particularly loved swimming, and in retirement one of her dreams came true: The Eberherrs built a pool in their home and opened it up for swimming lessons for the neighbourhood.

"Hundreds of people must have learned to swim there," Glaicar said.

The Eberherrs spent much of their retirement with their grandchildren, who all live in Prince George. (Submitted by Tracy Glaicar)

Among them were the Eberherrs' five grandchildren, all of whom were raised in Prince George. John and Helen would often care for their grandchildren, but family visits came to a stop when the COVID-19 lockdowns began last year.

While John had limited mobility and stayed home, Helen remained active, going for daily walks and keeping in touch with friends and family.

"She wore a mask and sanitized but she just really felt that staying locked up wasn't what she wanted," Glaicar said. "So she would continue to shop and continue to live."

Final days

The family isn't sure how they caught the virus, but on Dec. 22, Helen told Glaicar that John was losing his appetite. Glaicar convinced her parents to get tested for COVID-19 on Christmas Eve, and they received the positive results the next day.

On Dec. 28, Glaicar could hear a change in her mother's voice — slurred and disjointed. She told Helen to dial 911, hung up and started driving to her parents' home.

Watching from a distance, Glaicar watched first John and then Helen get loaded into ambulances. Her parents insisted they didn't want to be hooked up to ventilators.

Glaicar spoke to her father via video chat one last time before he passed on Jan. 5, and had several phone calls with her mother. While her father had been extremely ill and chances of recovery seemed low, her mother appeared to be in relatively good health — until she learned John had died.

"She just sort of stopped after that," Glaicar said. "I think it just became too much."

To hear the story of John and Helen Eberherr, as told by their daughter, tap the link below:

The CBC's Andrew Kurjata tells the story of John and Helen Eberherr, a couple who died of COVID-19 days apart in Prince George, B.C. 9:19
Tracy Glaicar said while her dad was a 'homebody,' her mother refused to sit still. (Submitted by Tracy Glaicar)

About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.

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