Winnipeg long-term care home residents who died of COVID are remembered in a ceremony

A woman places a stone on the memorial at Winnipeg's Simkin Centre for those residents who died of COVID. (Credit: John Longhurst)

Gwen Nelko 

Esther Shuster 

Mary D. Turner 

The rain had stopped the morning of Oct. 27, as one by one the names of those who had died of COVID while residents of the Saul and Claribel Simkin Centre in Winnipeg were read.

Lena Parisien 

Sheila Strieffler 

Luba Zalkind 

Irene Fonseth 

There were 11 elderly people who died,  among the 30 residents at the long-term care home who had contracted the virus in the last 19 months.

Annette Rosenberg 

Gary Marantz 

Hilda Loeppky 

Mahmonir Vahdat 

They were being remembered that day with a permanent stone marker, engraved with the words “In memory of our residents that were loved and lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. May their memory be a blessing.”

Family members of the deceased walked slowly to the marker, laying stones on top in the traditional Jewish custom.

One of those laying a stone was Brian Shuster, in memory of his mother Esther.

For Shuster, it was good to see people like his mother honoured by the Centre, which is home to about 200 residents.

The service was “a chance to remember her,” he said, noting she died almost exactly a year ago.

“It’s surreal she’s gone,” he said, praising the staff for their “elite” care for residents, and for their families—as evidenced by the service and marker.

For Simkin Centre CEO Laurie Cerqueti, the service was an opportunity to mourn the dead in a way that wasn’t possible during the pandemic.

“We felt this was the right thing to do,” she said, noting people had been unable to gather during the pandemic to remember those who died.

“It was a significant way for people to remember the lives lost,” she said.

Rabbi Kliel Rose of Winnipeg’s Congregation Etz Chayim spoke at the service. He read from the Book of Psalms, encouraging mourners to, in the words of the psalmist, lift their eyes to the hills where help from God comes from.

“We are pained by the void in our hearts” due to the deaths of loved ones to the pandemic, he said, but they “live in our memory.”

The stone marker was a “symbol of love and respect,” he said.

The placing of the stones on the marker, Rose said, shows those who died “still matter and left an indelible mark in our hearts for eternity.”

The stones are also a sign of permanence, he said, adding one of the names for God in the Hebrew scriptures is the “rock and redeemer of Israel.”

The Simkin Centre, which was founded in 1915 as the Winnipeg Old Folks Jewish Home, opened its southwest Winnipeg facility in 2001.