British Columbia

Nisga'a couple died of COVID-19 nine days apart

Vern Clayton remembers his parents, Verna Clayton, 74, and Victor Clayton, 73, as loving. He believes they contracted COVID-19 while travelling in Terrace, B.C., in December.

Verna and Victor Clayton are survived by their son Vern Clayton, who tested positive in January

Nisga'a elders Victor Clayton, 73, and his wife, Verna Clayton, 74, died of COVID-19 nine days apart in late January. (Submitted by Vern Clayton)

A Nass Valley man recovering from COVID-19 is mourning the loss of his parents, who died of the same disease just a few days apart.

Vern Clayton's parents, both Nisga'a elders, died of COVID-19 nine days apart in late January at Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace, B.C., a 90-minute drive south of Nass Valley. 

Victor Clayton, 73, and his wife Verna Clayton, 74, had been married for more than four decades.

They are two of four Nisga'a members who have lost their lives to COVID-19, according to the First Nation. A total of 154 Nisga'a members have tested positive since March 2020.

That total includes Vern Clayton, who grew up in Prince Rupert and is now in his 30s. He believes his parents contracted the novel coronavirus when they travelled to Terrace in December.

"My mom and dad started coughing pretty hard during Christmas," he told Sarah Penton, host of CBC's Radio West

Clayton says he and his parents were sent to hospital in early January and were diagnosed with COVID-19 soon after.

Clayton says he was initially placed in the same ward with his parents, but his father was soon transferred to the intensive care unit.

Several days later, Victor Clayton died. 

"The doctor asked me if I could come down to see my dad in the ICU," Clayton said. "I was still in the hospital on the second floor, so I said, 'Yes.' I went running. I didn't even feel myself get[ting] down the stairs either.

"I got to talk to my dad for 11 minutes, and then [at] the 11th minute, he passed away," he said.

Vern Clayton, son of Verna and Victor Clayton, is recovering from COVID-19. (Submitted by Vern Clayton)

Clayton says his mother couldn't believe her husband died, and didn't want to talk to anyone for eight days afterward.

Clayton had already left the hospital when his still hospitalized mother asked to speak to him. But it was too late.

"The doctor told me that … she wanted to see me," he said. "But when I got there … they said she passed away." 

Victor Clayton was a jack of all trades, including welding and carpentry. Verna Clayton worked at a cannery for most of her life.

"They were both loving parents," Clayton said. 

Victor Clayton and his wife, Verna Clayton, are remembered by their son as loving parents. (Submitted by Vern Clayton)

Clayton says the funeral for his parents looked different due to COVID restrictions. 

"This pandemic really screwed with our culture where we weren't even allowed to do our duties as a feast," he said. "We had to do everything [during the burial ceremony] through the cars … we all had our windows rolled down. Just a few handful of people got to be out of their vehicles."

Clayton says he still has breathing issues, and is glad one of his friends frequently drives from Terrace to deliver him groceries.

Tap the link below to hear Vern Clayton's interview on Radio West:

With files from Radio West and Sarah Penton