Pomona family struggles to find mortuary after 51-year-old father dies from COVID-19

POMONA, Calif. (KABC) -- If losing a family member to COVID-19 isn't difficult enough, one Pomona family is continuing to struggle. It's not just the heartache, or the feeling of helplessness.

It's simply trying to find a mortuary where they can take the body.

"It's just frustrating," said Ericka Cervantes, who lost her 51-year old father to COVID-19 on Dec. 26. "We are tired and dealing with my father passing away. Then having to deal with finding a funeral home has been really hard."

Cervantes said it all started in early December, when one of her brothers told the family that he contracted COVID-19. Cervantes isn't sure how he got it, speculating that perhaps he got it on the job at the grocery store where he worked.

The family got tested for COVID-19 just to be safe. Two days later came the news that not only did Cervantes have the virus, but so did both of her brothers and both parents.

"It started with me and my mom," said Cervantes. "It hit us more first. We started getting the body aches; the tiredness. We started getting a little cough."

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Soon her father began developing symptoms. Even though he was relatively young, only 51-years-old, he had two preexisting conditions: not only did he have sleep apnea, but he was overweight. The situation soon went from bad to worse.

"He started hallucinating; talking when we weren't speaking to him, saying he couldn't see us even though his eyes were open," said Cervantes.

"That's when we began to get really scared."

On Dec. 12, they took him to the hospital. He was immediately transferred to the ICU, but then came down with pneumonia.

"We were praying, sticking to our faith and hoping he would pull through. But his heart couldn't (handle it). It was too much on his body," said Cervantes.

Her father died on Dec. 26. They knew that with COVID-19 deaths surging across the area, the search to find a mortuary would be a struggle. But she said they had no idea how hard it could be.

"It was just 'We're busy, we have too much, we're not taking anybody right now,'" she said several mortuaries around the area told her.

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She said one of the reasons they wouldn't accept her father was they told her that because he died in a hospital, and his body was being refrigerated, their situation wasn't as dire as people who died either at home or at other facilities.

"They're giving priority to nursing homes, as well as families who've lost more than two people," said Cervantes.

Nearly a month later, she said they finally found a mortuary that would take her father, but it's more than 40 miles away from their home. She's started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for expenses.

The rest of her family has since recovered from COVID-19. She's urging people to wear masks when possible, and to take the virus seriously. She also warns people to not fall complacent simply because the vast number of people who are killed by the virus are 65-years-old and older.

"That day I went to the hospital to say my final farewell to my father, I was in the ICU. And I told my mom to look at all the other rooms. It's people the same age as my father," said Cervantes. "These were all young men, 40 to 50 years of age. These are people who are working to sustain their families, and they're here in the ICU units, with ventilators and tubes up their noses because they can't breathe.

"It's not just 65 years or older."
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