She lost both parents to COVID-19, and almost died herself. What grief taught one Edmonton-area woman about hope and love


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The virus tore through the Stewart household over just six days last winter.

Jean Stewart was first to fall ill. A 92-year-old great-grandmother who wowed everyone with her skills as a seamstress, she was hospitalized at the Grey Nuns in mid-November.

Next was her husband, Lowell Stewart, a 95-year-old retired engineer who helped build Edmonton’s City Centre Mall and Royal Alexandra Hospital.

The last to get it was Lynda Stewart, 55, Jean and Lowell’s daughter, who came down with chills the day after her mother was hospitalized. A few days later, she was so weak it took her half a day just to take her medication and brush her teeth.

Lynda was intubated and placed in a medically-induced coma. She was in such bad shape that her sister prepared her obituary.

As of Sunday, COVID-19 has killed 1,963 Albertans, a number that’s expected to pass 2,000 as surging variant cases drive a possible third-wave of infections. Among those were both of Lynda’s parents, who died less than a month apart. Lowell was first to go, followed by Jean, who was too ill to receive the news of her husband’s passing.


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On its face, Lynda’s story is one of terrible loss. But “it hasn’t been dark and dismal,” she said. “It’s given me a feeling of a lot of resilience, and strength to come back from this.”

Her experience with the illness impacted her in surprising ways, moulding her perspective on grief, hope, love and faith.

Lived with and cared for parents

Lynda and her parents lived at Bedford Village, a retirement community in Sherwood Park. Lynda never married and has no children, so for her, living with and caring for her parents was the natural choice.

Kevin Stewart, Lynda’s brother, remembers feeling nervous as the coronavirus arrived in North America and began spread through buildings like Bedford, but the facility’s rigorous safety protocols helped allay his fears. “They locked that place down tight as a drum.”

The facility made it until November without a single reported case. None of the Stewarts quite know how COVID finally breached the bubble — by all accounts, they followed the restrictions to the letter.

Nevertheless, they all fell ill, in rapid succession, beginning Nov. 13.

Despite being the youngest, Lynda’s case was initially the most grave. Ambulance crews took her to Strathcona Community Hospital Nov. 19, where she was intubated, placed in a coma, and transported to the Royal Alex.

Kevin feared Lynda wouldn’t make it. For he and his wife Ann, the whole experience was “surreal.” They were dealing with three doctors, at three different hospitals. When they hung up one phone, another rang. It was several days before they could keep all the doctors straight.


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“It seemed like COVID was happening on the outside world,” said Ann. “Then all of a sudden, it came in — into your house, into your home.”

Lynda awoke from the coma several days later. Last she’d heard, her father was doing well, but Kevin broke the news. Jean died 19 days later, on Dec. 12. Lynda remembers wishing for a redo button. “It was kind of like, ‘well wait a minute. Let’s rewind things, and bring them back and try again.’”

Lynda now lives alone in an apartment that less than six months ago was home to three. The family are still deciding on plans for a funeral.

She mourns her parents’ loss, but also feels things she wasn’t expecting.

‘Love them in a different way’

“I always thought somebody mourning, you’d just be in a deep sorrow, but not necessarily,” she said. “You miss them, and you love them, but I think sometimes you feel fond memories, and you start to love them in a different way as you appreciate, in a (new) way, what they’ve done for you.”

“It’s almost like a deeper love for them,” she said. “It was feelings like that that took me by surprise.”

Lynda has also re-immersed herself in her faith. Her church continues to meet mostly by Zoom, which has been a source of comfort and strength.

“I do feel that mom and dad are in a better place, together, and they don’t have their earthly ailments anymore.”

Many families have lost a loved one to COVID. Fewer, have had three family members critically ill with the disease, in three different hospitals, at the same time.


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For Ann and Kevin, the strongest emotion is admiration for the people who cared for their family.

“As swamped and overworked and overloaded as the hospitals were, we found ourselves receiving — every day — at least one phone call from each hospital,” said Kevin. “They called us, we didn’t call them.”

“They took it upon themselves to do that, to keep us updated. We were just overwhelmed by that level of care.”

Remarkably, Lynda escaped without scarring to her lungs. She’s received her first vaccination, and has returned to playing piano for a local ballet company.

She has an urge to try something new, but isn’t yet sure what that will be. “I’m just grateful every day that I’m alive.”

With cases trending upward, but an end in sight, Lynda believes the next few months will be especially difficult.

“We need to take it seriously,” she said. “We just need to be patient … a little more patient and thoughtful with each other, as we go through this. I hope there’s a feeling of hope, that this is temporary, that one day we will get past it. I really do believe that.”

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