Rob Chorley wanted two songs to be played at his funeral: “Stand by Me” and “I’ll Never Walk Alone.”
The 67-year-old man wrote the request in a will that he didn’t think he would need for a long time. He was retired, with years of golf, travel, and grandchildren ahead of him. In February, he went to the Mississauga Hospital to have a benign tumor removed from his spine. The surgery went well, but a week later, the hospital called to say he was possibly exposed to COVID-19.
He tested positive and his situation worsened. His family couldn’t be with him when he died and they couldn’t sing those songs at his little funeral. Singing was not allowed.
10,000 Ontarians have died of COVID-19. Can a memorial help us heal?
Anna Ng, 68, was a cautious and shy person. He masked himself on the first day of the pandemic. During the strictest forms of confinement, she longed to eat Korean food and dye her hair in a salon, but she was left without those little pleasures because she followed the rules. His family does not know how the virus was spread.
At her funeral, they stored some hair dye in her coffin, as if her mother was going on a weekend trip. It was too difficult to think of it any other way.
Rob Chorley, who was in the hospital for the eight births of his grandchildren, and Anna Ng, whose idea of fun was what made her children happy, are two of the 10,000 people who have died of COVID-19 in this province, a total reached Tuesday. Their families are two of the thousands in this province who will be forever devastated by the pandemic.
Marlene Chorley, one of Rob’s three children, says a monument or memorial would help with the healing process. Seeing your father’s name set in stone is one way to restore humanity in a pandemic that has often reduced people to statistics.
“My dad was not the ninth person to die on March 22,” he says. “My father was Robert Chorley, who had a full life, who made people smile and laugh and was an amazing person who was such a bright light in this world.”
She and her family have had a hard time accepting his death, the way he was so foolishly “ripped” out of their lives. “There needs to be some recognition from the government,” he says.
“I want everyone to know about my dad,” he continues. “I think if things were done differently, my dad would still be here today.”
Losing someone to the pandemic, to COVID-19, is an entirely different experience of death and pain, and that needs to be recognized, he says.
Rita Pang, who lost her mother, Anna Ng, believes a monument would offer comfort to families like her own. “If we don’t remember her, who will?” she asks. But he anticipates some objections: “Why do we spend money comforting a certain group of people and not others, right?”
His mother was admitted to the Toronto hospital, but was transferred to Peterborough during the ICU bed shortage in April. He died in May, on their 40th wedding anniversary.
“We always thought it was a lot of fun to see how terrible my father was with dating,” says Pang. “She was always really mad that he didn’t remember their wedding anniversary.
“It’s almost like I’ll never forget it from now on.”
Pang says that a monument should be educational. He studied medical history in college and knows the reaction to pandemics remains the same: misunderstandings, pseudoscience, people relaxing too quickly when the end seems near. Pang believes that a monument could help keep people on guard in the future. She is closely monitoring the COVID numbers and is concerned that people are no longer taking this seriously.
“What kind of follow-up would there be to make sure people remember the lessons learned?” she asks.
Since Rob Chorley’s death, some 300 people have contacted his family to tell him how much he meant to them. The circle of pain is wide and deep, and throughout the province there are thousands more. Chorley’s wife, Annmarie, would like a monument to reflect that and all the hugs that were lost during her time.
“We need to commemorate so that our children learn,” he says. “Sad to say, but in death there are many lessons to be learned and our family is learning them every day. And it’s heartbreaking. “