Nova Scotia

Until her death from COVID-19 at Northwood, Hermance Cormier was singing

Hermance Cormier grew up in a big Acadian family in New Brunswick and came to Halifax in the 1950s not speaking a word of English. She is among those who died from COVID-19 at Northwood.

'She was always smiling. She always saw the best in people. She was like that all her life'

Hermance Cormier, pictured here with her late husband, Edgar, died at Northwood in Halifax in April at the age of 87 after contracting COVID-19. (Submitted by Joe Cormier)

Hermance Cormier, 87, sick with COVID-19, didn't have energy to do much in her final days, but she was still singing.

She always loved music, so it wasn't a surprise to her son, Joe Cormier, when nurses told him over the phone one day last month she wasn't available to talk, she had sung herself to sleep.

A few days later, on April 24, she died of COVID-19 inside Northwood, the long-term care home in Halifax that has become the epicentre of the province's outbreak.

Cormier was born and grew up in Cormier Cove, N.B., in a French-speaking Acadian family. She was one of 13 children, and she carried on the Acadian tradition of large families with her five sons, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She had 89 nieces and nephews.

Cormier and her husband, Edgar Cormier, didn't speak English when they moved to Halifax in the 1950s. They learned the language by listening to English radio and watching English TV.

Joe, her eldest son, said he grew up in a bilingual home, with his parents speaking French and the kids usually responding in English. He recalled the sound of French songs commonly ringing throughout the house, whether from recordings or from his mother's mouth.

Hermance Cormier with her grandson, Josh Cormier. (Submitted by Joe Cormier)

He attributes his career as a music teacher to his mother's influence.

Cormier built her life around her family and the church, her son said. Dementia interfered with some of her memories in recent years, but the ones that remained clear were of her loved ones. And she remained happy and caring.

"She was always smiling. She always saw the best in people. She was like that all her life," Joe said.

Family visited Cormier at Northwood often in the final years of her life, Joe said, and they took comfort in knowing she was well cared for by staff at the facility. He said he wished long-term care workers were better compensated for the difficult and important work they do, especially now, in the midst of a pandemic.

"They're at the bottom of the totem pole on the front lines right now," Joe said.

A peaceful end

Despite her failing memory, Cormier always remembered her prayers and would recite them over the phone with family members after visits into Northwood were banned in early April.

Nurses at the facility arranged for a priest to read Cormier her last rites by video a few days before she died.

"I can tell you that that would have put my mom at peace," said Joe.

CBC Nova Scotia is sharing stories of the victims of COVID-19 to commemorate those we've lost to the pandemic. If you've lost a loved one and want to share your memories of them, reach out via