'Everyone is affected': Dauphin River First Nation residents grieve after multiple COVID-19 deaths
Seven deaths are believed to be linked to a COVID-19 outbreak in the community of 260
The pandemic has taken a toll on the tiny community of Dauphin River First Nation where seven people have died after contracting COVID-19 in the past two months.
Lawrence Letander said he knew all of them. Most of them were relatives or close friends.
"Two were my aunts, and one of them my uncle," he said. "It's surreal, I don't think I can articulate how I feel, one day you're dealing with one death and then another death after that, and then another," he said.
Dauphin River, located about 250 kilometres north of Winnipeg, has a population of just 260.
Health officials in the First Nation said the deaths are linked to a COVID-19 outbreak which has since been declared over. But residents are still trying to cope with the loss.
"Everyone is affected," Letander said. "And it feels like you're just going from one heartache to another."
'Could not wrap my mind around it'
Letander said he, his wife and two sons all tested positive for COVID-19 in October. They recovered, but by the end of that month he learned his aunt Lorraine Stagg had died after she contracted the virus too.
"It was so sudden and I don't think we had time to process the reality of what had happened, I myself could not wrap my mind around it," he said.
He said weeks later he learned about another aunt and uncle who had passed away after testing positive for COVID-19.
Letander posted a collage of photos on Facebook to honour their memory.
"I never realized really how much we had lost until I saw their faces and their smiles," he said.
"These deaths are more than just statistics for COVID-19, they were somebody's mom, dad, uncle, friend," Letander said.
Lisa Beardy is the Health Director for the First Nation who also lost her mother to COVID-19 in early November.
"It was really difficult, she suffered, and she passed away after spending 17 days in intensive care," Beardy said.
She said due to COVID-19 restrictions she could not see her mother in the hospital. The only way she could communicate with her was through her iPad online.
'We definitely need some mental health support'
"Whenever we tried to talk she would be gasping for air and she couldn't talk for very long," she said.
"I wanted so much to hold her hand and be with her and I couldn't," Beardy said adding that she saw her mother take her last breath on her electronic device.
"That's how I got to see her pass away, through an iPad."
Beardy said her mother was otherwise healthy and full of energy before she got sick.
"She was 83 years old and she was abled, she was walking and sewing all the time, and I never thought she would pass away or that something like this would happen."
Beardy said the whole community is suffering and needs help after losing eight community members over the last two months — seven of them to COVID-19. "We definitely need some mental health support to deal with the grief," she said.
"If you don't know anybody that has had COVID-19 or passed away from it, then you're privileged."
There have been several funerals in the last two weeks — the latest one this past Saturday, for Cheryl Stagg who is being remembered for her smile and laughter.
Beardy said at the peak of the outbreak there were 49 active cases of COVID-19.
As of Saturday, the community has no active cases, but that doesn't mean people should let their guard down, she said.
"Because it spreads like wildfire and we don't want to lose any more people."
The First Nation remains locked down and only essential workers are being allowed in the community.