Hilde Mock’s life was bookended by global historical moments that saw her survive bombing raids in Germany decades before COVID-19 attacked her heart in Winnipeg.
At the end, as in many of those raids during the Second World War, Mock was separated from family.
“We weren’t able to be there and console her or any of that. She passed alone,” said Richard Pope, Mock’s son-in-law.
“A life like that, started off with a traumatic event and ended up with a traumatic event.”
Mock was one of 153 people whose obituaries filled 12 pages of the Winnipeg Free Press on Nov. 14, many of them taken by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Free Press created a special section to make space for all of them.
Mock died in Parkview Place on Oct. 25, about four days after testing positive for COVID-19. The care home was in the midst of a deadly outbreak of the virus, and in lockdown.
In her obit, Mock’s family said she was the 55th victim of the virus in Manitoba. Since then, in less than four weeks, the province has reported 162 more deaths, pushing the total to 217.
Of those, more than half are people who died during outbreaks at three dozen long-term care homes and assisted living centres in Manitoba.
For many grieving families, an obituary is the only way to pay tribute when restrictions on gatherings mean traditional funerals are off the table.
“Things are not normal and you can’t do the normal things, and part of the grieving process is saying goodbye. And you really don’t get a chance to say goodbye properly so there’s no closure,” said Pope.
“It’s just like something’s missing all the time. We weren’t able to be with her at the end. We weren’t able to see her even after, at the funeral home [where she was cremated]. It sometimes feels inhumane.
“But at the end of the day, you have to accept reality and and carry on.”
Pope and his wife Connie — Mock’s daughter — want to share Mock’s story so people see the human toll behind the statistics.
Her life began in 1936 and she had just turned three when the Second World War erupted. She was only a few years older when she became a sudden guardian as the bombs fell on Germany.
“She would run with her younger brother to the shelters and they didn’t know where their mother was and they wouldn’t see her for three or four days because they got separated,” Pope said. “So she had to take care of her very young brother.”
After the war, Germany was divided into occupied zones by the allies. Mock, along with her brother and mother, made it to a refugee camp in West Germany, but her father was caught behind in East Germany.
That area was tightly controlled by the Soviets, who forced labourers to provide restitution to countries devastated by the Nazi regime.
The rest of Mock’s family was free in West Germany but her mother worked three jobs to feed them.
“So again, they didn’t see the mother very much during that time,” Pope said. “So [Mock] protected her brother and nurtured him.”
She forever carried mental and physical scars from the war — her lungs took a beating from particles inhaled during the bombings — but Mock wouldn’t let people see it.
She celebrated life and that spirit defined her, Pope said. She easily made friends and in 1956, she married in West Germany. The couple moved to Winnipeg the following year, where Mock worked at Eaton’s Polo Park for more than 25 years.
Though flanked by heartache, her life teemed with generosity, loyalty and a fierce love for family and friends, Pope said.
“Christmas was especially her time of year. She tried to make it the most enjoyable time for everybody,” Pope said. Mock baked most evenings for six weeks prior to Christmas Eve.
“By the time it was over, we were all exhausted, but very happy.”
It’s no surprise the season resonated. It was 12 days before Christmas that Mock’s new life began in Winnipeg, on Dec. 13, 1957.
Like everything, Christmas will be different this year, said Pope.
“We’ll continue traditions if we can, given what happens with the lockdown. Like everybody else, we don’t know if they’re going to allow people to gather at all,” Pope said.
Prior to getting COVID-19, Mock was at an assisted living facility when she contracted an infection in late February and was hospitalized for nearly two months. Her family was told in late April that she needed more attention than the assisted living facility could provide, and Mock had to be moved into a long-term care home.
There was an opening at Parkview but Mock didn’t want to go there — she called it old and drab, Pope said. A staff member had also tested positive for COVID-19 that same month.
The family offered to pay more to keep her at the assisted living facility but was told they would be fined if Mock wasn’t transferred to Parkview, Pope said.
Five months later, in mid-September, a terrible COVID outbreak hit Parkview. Within a few days, the home had its first death.
Mock tested positive on Oct. 20 or 21 and the virus quickly moved into her heart. She was 84.
“It’s sad that it happened that way but it’s outside everybody’s control, and we’re not the only family facing this,” said Pope, noting the Free Press obits.
“You realize how severe the problem really is and how widespread it is.”
As of Nov. 21, there have been 159 cases and 26 deaths at Parkview. Those numbers have been surpassed only by the Maples Long Term Care Home, where 45 people have died.
Like the Popes, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin wants people to remember that behind the facts and figures and charts detailing the epidemic are Manitobans who have been lost to us.
“These are not just numbers that I’m announcing every day. These are people, these are brothers, sisters, parents, aunts. And every day we’re listing more and more,” Roussin said.
“We cannot allow this to continue, we can’t allow more people’s loved ones to get sick, to die.”
Anthony Loeppky, whose story shared the obit pages with Mock, died Nov. 9 at age of 58. He was from Manitoba but had been living in North Dakota.
In his tribute, family wrote “we truly believe one of Tony’s last wishes would be for all of you to take the COVID virus seriously, for this is what took this kind and loving man’s life far too early.
“Please don’t let Tony become just another statistic. For in his life, he stood for many different things, but the one thing that mattered most to him was his family and his friends, so please protect yourselves to live long and happy lives.
“We are all in this together, so let’s all do our part.”