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The long goodbye: These COVID-19 victims’ families opt to wait months or more for funerals

The long goodbye: These COVID-19 victims’ families opt to wait months or more for funerals
WATCH: These two Saskatchewan families are without closure after losing loved ones to COVID-19.

The loss was sudden, but the grieving process is prolonged.

Two families in opposite ends of Saskatchewan that knew little about each other prior to the COVID-19 pandemic — and have never met — are going through very similar experiences right now, after losing loved ones to the disease.

Alice Grove, 75, likely contracted the novel coronavirus in the North Battleford area in early-to-mid March. It was around that same time that Noble “Butch” Gullacher, 69, became ill with it in Regina.

Neither Grove nor Gullacher had recently travelled, but Saskatchewan had not yet acknowledged it was spreading locally.

READ MORE: A timeline of the novel coronavirus in Saskatchewan

Based on their families’ recollections of their activities and the timeline for developing symptoms, it’s possible that one of them, if not both of them, came down with COVID-19, which is caused by the novel coronavirus, even before the province reported a first case.

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Grove and Gullacher are among the six people who have died from COVID-19 complications in the province.

Saskatchewan residents Noble “Butch” Gullacher, left, and Alice Grove, right, have died from complications with COVID-19.
Saskatchewan residents Noble “Butch” Gullacher, left, and Alice Grove, right, have died from complications with COVID-19. Kathleen Gullacher, Western Development Museum / Supplied

They had little in common but now that they’re gone, their loved ones do: they’re struggling to find closure.

Grove’s sister, Eleanor Widdowson, knows there are a lot of people who want to pay their respects. Gullacher’s wife, Kathleen Gullacher, says the same stands for her husband.

With large gatherings restricted in Saskatchewan and across the country to stop the spread of the virus — something both families are taking very seriously — it will be months, if not more than a year, before they’ll be able to celebrate their Grove’s and Gullacher’s lives.

READ MORE: Grieving without goodbye: Saskatchewan psychologist talks loss during pandemic

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“It’s just the tenseness, the emotional buildup, of not being able to say goodbye and knowing that they’re not at their final resting place,” Widdowson said.

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“Things will get better,” said Gullacher. “We’ll have the party. We will get together. It will happen.

“It’s just a matter of waiting until it’s safe for everybody to do it and I don’t think there’s anyway around that.”

In the meantime, they have their memories — which they’re looking forward to reflecting on with extended family and friends when the time finally comes.

Alice Grove: a doting aunt who could quite literally spin a good yarn 

Alice Grove was the eldest of five siblings. They grew up on a farm just east of North Battleford, the community to which she dedicated most of her life.

From her mother, she learned to card wool and spin yarn, said her sister Eleanor Widdowson. The niche hobby would come to define her later on and allow her to give back in a personal way. Grove would knit mitts and socks, cardigans and hats for people in need.

North Battleford’s Alice Grove could spin a good yarn
North Battleford’s Alice Grove could spin a good yarn

For 30 years, Grove volunteered at the Western Development Museum. She would bring her cards and her spinning wheel into the city to do demonstrations during “Those Were The Days.”

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The only thing Grove loved more was her family. She was predeceased by her husband and had no children. But she was very close with Widdowson and Widdowson’s children and grandchildren.

“She never forgot them on a birthday or Christmas or Easter,” Widdowson said. “She never forgot them.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Family grieves Saskatchewan widow Alice Grove in COVID-19 related death

Grove, 75, was a diabetic and a cancer survivor. Widdowson said she became extremely ill on March 28.

She last saw her sister struggling to breathe with the help of a ventilator, from behind a glass window at the Battlefords Union Hospital, and ultimately made the gut-wrenching decision to remove her from life support on March 29.

Grove will eventually buried alongside her late husband at a cemetery down the road from their farm just north of the city. She lived her final years there with her dog, Ellie, and cat, Garfield. Widdowson said she found new homes for both pets.

Grove’s extended family are slowly sorting through her belongings.

“I had my oldest granddaughter crying the other day because she went out to the farm,” Widdowson said. “She says, ‘I miss aunty.’ ”

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Noble “Butch” Gullacher: a proud grandfather passionate about sports 

Noble “Butch” Gullacher met his wife of more than 40 years in Regina Beach, where she was working as a lifeguard.

“He had a brand new ‘Cuda 340,” Kathleen Gullacher said, with a smile.

Over the years, they shared mostly everything as they built a life in Regina together: two sons and three grandchildren, a passion for cars and season tickets to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Kathleen and Butch Gullacher.
Kathleen and Butch Gullacher. Kathleen Gullacher / Supplied

Upon learning of Butch Gullacher’s death, the team delivered an autographed football to the family, which “he would have loved,” said his wife.

Butch Gullacher was also a fan of the Montreal Canadiens.

“The Montreal Canadiens have always been his team and all the boys, they all had all the little kids clothes,” Kathleen Gullacher said. “And as adults, they still follow them.”

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READ MORE: Regina man dies in hospital after catching COVID-19 in the community

Butch Gullacher, 69, was a diabetic who was waiting for a kidney transplant. He was hospitalized with COVID-19 on March 19.

“Honestly, the last words I remember hearing from him were, ‘I don’t want to die,’ ” his wife said, as they made the decision to intubate him on March 22.

Kathleen Gullacher said she check in with his nurses over the phone daily, but his condition didn’t improve. She said she watched from afar on April 10 as a team of health-care workers extubated him.

“He lasted 15 minutes and his heart stopped,” said Kathleen Gullacher, her voice catching.

She has his ashes with her at home. She said he wasn’t religious and wouldn’t have wanted a large funeral, but he “knew a lot of people and remembered everybody.”

Kathleen Gullacher said she thinks they’ll want to say goodbye to him when they can. But right now, she, herself, is not ready.