1 year of COVID-19 deaths taking 'unrelenting' toll on NC families and healthcare workers

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- March 25, 2020, marked the first COVID-19 death in North Carolina. Since then, one year later, the virus has taken nearly 12,000 lives in the state and more than 540,000 nationwide.

Behind each life lost is a family left with unimaginable loss and grief, and according to mental health professionals, the loss and grief in these cases is different.

"The suddenness and the intractability of this and the illness that it creates has been deeply shocking to many of us and there are times when it happens super quickly and then there are times when someone is in our hospital for months on end," explained John Oliver, Chaplain and Director of Chaplain Services and Education at Duke University Medical Center (DUMC).

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, part of what separates COVID-19 grief is the random, erratic, and sudden nature of the illness.

Long-term health issues can also lead to another type of loss for survivors, and they're not the only ones dealing with the fallout from the devastating virus. Healthcare workers are also managing their own grief after a year of fighting in the trenches and seeing time after time the terrible toll this virus has taken on patients and their families.

"That's something that has been hard about this pandemic, is working tirelessly on full throttle the whole time," explained Dr. Zachary Ginsberg at DUMC. "And, then in the end, just gearing up because there has been a lot of loss. And then, the feeling of isolation and just wanting to connect with the families and wanting to provide as much solace and compassion and care as we can. It's been a real struggle and it has been unrelenting," Ginsberg added.

At DUMC, social workers and chaplains make rounds checking in with staff and helping families as loved ones battle coronavirus. One of the main connections Oliver works on for families is virtual visits. He witnesses firsthand how difficult it is for families who can't be with COVID-19 patients at end of life. That separation is also what sets this grief apart.

"We work with them, and we grieve with them," Oliver said. "And, I have cried alongside of people and this is, this is sacred work not only with patient care, but with our team members, so these are things that have been challenging."
Copyright © 2021 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.