Regina woman remembered as 'a mother to all' dies from COVID-19

Ghidei Tesfai is remembered as one of the matriarchs of the Eritrean community in Regina and "a mother to all." Her family said she died from COVID-19 complications after spending a month in the intensive care unit.

70-year-old Ghidei Tesfai was considered one of the matriarchs of Regina’s Eritrean community

Ghidei Tesfai died from complications related to COVID-19 on April 7, 2021 at Regina General Hospital. The 70-year-old grandmother is being remembered as one of the matriarchs of the Eritrean community in Regina. (Submitted by Asmeret Kifle)

Ghidei Tesfai was known for opening her arms and her home to anyone who needed comfort or support, but to newcomers to Canada in particular.

The 70-year-old grandmother, originally from Eritrea in East Africa, knew how difficult it was to build a life in a new country on her own, having done it herself more than once.

"She believed in giving back, and it's what she lived for. She lived to help people and always be a kind person," said her daughter Asmeret Kifle.

Kifle said her mother would seek out immigrants who had moved to Regina without their parents or extended family and then check up on them, feed them, and "take on the mothering role."

Tesfai was remembered as one of the matriarchs of the Eritrean community in Regina at her funeral over the weekend, after passing away on April 7 from complications related to Covid-19.

A GoFundMe page set up by her family to cover funeral expenses said "her sudden death has sent a shock wave through us all."

Her daughters told CBC News that Tesfai had no underlying conditions and yet deteriorated quickly from double pneumonia and lung clots connected to the coronavirus. She spent a month on life support in the intensive care unit at the Regina General Hospital, where her family was able to be at her side when she died. By then, she no longer tested positive for the virus.

As of Sunday, Saskatchewan has recorded 454 deaths from COVID-19. Almost 200 people are in hospital, with 46 in intensive care.

'She always had a clear heart'

Tesfai's daughters said her legacy will be one of kindness, compassion, generosity and an appreciation for life.

When Tesfai was just a teenager, she left behind her home country of Eritrea — then embroiled in civil war — to become a nanny in Italy so she could financially support her family in East Africa.

Ghidei Tesfai was born in Adi Bidel, Eritrea and moved to Italy in her late teens to provide financially for her family in East Africa. She's pictured here in Rome. (Submitted by Asmeret Kifle)

She eventually immigrated to Regina in the late 1980s and worked as a cleaner at the Regina General Hospital for decades until her retirement.

"Everything she did, she had to do on her own [yet] she did not complain. She never complained that she had to work extra hard to get what she needed. She always had a clear heart and was always grateful for the simplest things in life," said her daughter Rakelle Woldeyes.

Woldeyes called her mother a "walking angel" who was a "mother to all."

"Even though she went through a lot, she struggled ... she always made sure everybody was taken care of," she said.

Tesfai was a devoted member of the Eritrean community and church, and always took an active role in planning weddings, baptisms and community celebrations.

"She was the life of the party," said Kifle.

'COVID can hit anyone'

However, after the pandemic started, Tesfai was vigilant about staying away from people and staying safe, her daughters said.

"My mom stayed home. She was very afraid of the virus," said Woldeyes.

Ghidei Tesfai was a devoted member of the Eritrean community and church in Regina, according to her family. (Submitted by Asmeret Kifle)

Tesfai didn't celebrate Christmas or birthdays with her seven grandchildren in the past year and only left her home to pray for others once a month and buy necessities, said her family.

"Did she get it at the grocery store? Or in the elevator at her condo building? We don't know. We'll never know," said Kifle.

The family said their mother, who always put others first, would want people to learn a lesson from her experience and become even more vigilant in taking precautions against the virus.

"COVID can hit anyone, anywhere," said Kifle. 

"Our mother would want everyone to be safe."


For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.



Bonnie Allen

Senior Reporter

Bonnie Allen is a senior reporter for CBC News based in Saskatchewan. Before returning to Canada in 2013, Allen spent four years reporting from across Africa, including Libya, South Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone. She holds a master's in international human rights law from the University of Oxford. @bonnieallenCBC