By Sr Bernadette Reis, fsp
Holly Bonner is an Adjunct Professor of Civic Engagement at Wagner College on Staten Island, one of the five boroughs making up New York City. Her husband is a New York City detective and works the night shift in the heart of Time Square.
Holly spoke with Vatican News about how her family is coping with the situation. She also explains how her work as a chaplain has played a key role in helping families mourn the death of a loved one to Covid-19.
It is difficult
Holly explained that the living situation her family is going through for her family is difficult. After her husband, Joe, was exposed by co-workers to the virus, he began to live in an Airbnb close to their home. After working the midnight shift, he goes home, picks up his breakfast, sees his two daughters and Holly behind the screen door, and leaves. The same thing happens around 6pm when Joe picks up a hot meal Holly has prepared for him.
“It's very difficult for my girls because at 5 and 7 years old, they are still trying to wrap their minds around what coronavirus even is. Schools have stopped, their father’s not home. They just see myself taking care of them in every capacity. They are confused little people.”
Serving those who have died as a chaplain
Staten Island has been hard hit by the virus. Many deacons and priests are elderly and overworked. Holly lives next door to a Catholic cemetery and many people know she is a chaplain. She began to get calls from people asking her to conduct graveside services, something she says she never thought she would ever do as a chaplain.
After consulting her parish deacon and priest, Holly learned that she could perform the Catholic Rite of Committal. They provided her with the Rite of Christian Funeral handbook and guided her through it.
Holly conducts the Rite from her back yard, “standing on a platform”, and conducts the service “over the fence”. If the person will be buried in a cemetery other than the one next door, she conducts the service from her front porch. Due to restrictions in place, “you are lucky if you may have one or two people who attend the service”, Holly explained.
The family of those who have died from the virus “are quite honestly just grateful to have the prayer. I think the grieving process has been so shaken throughout this whole coronavirus pandemic that people are just grateful to get a prayer and they’re grateful to have something said for their loved one that has passed. So as odd as it seems to see a chaplain standing out in their back yard or on their front porch, they're very, very grateful to receive it”
Covid-19 patients’ final moments
Holly is also in touch with nurses through courses she takes as she pursues a Doctor of Ministry degree at the New York Theological Seminary. “They have painted a very difficult picture of people who are on ventilators, or people who are near death in the hospital, and they are there alone because they are not allowed to have any loved ones with them”.
Doctors and nurses are contacting loved ones with their own mobile phones or iPads. “They are the people who are holding the hands of the sick in the hospitals, but their loved ones are able to sometimes be there in a virtual respect. This is taking an emotional toll I think very much on the medical profession as well as the people who are losing a loved one who is sick to Covid-19”.