HOLMDEL, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A New Jersey family’s heartache has been magnified after their relative living in a nursing home died of coronavirus and they didn’t find out for nearly a month.

The grief of losing someone to COVID-19 is particularly painful. In so many cases, the family can’t say goodbye.

But Brianna and David Comer had no idea their loved one had even passed away, until weeks later when they called his nursing home to check in.

“We, unfortunately, didn’t know until after he had already been buried,” Brianna Comer told CBS2’s Jessica Layton recently.

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The shock left this granddaughter with so many questions.

“Did he die alone? Was he scared?” she said.

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That compounded the heartbreak for those who cared so much for 88-year-old Thomas Comer, a devout Catholic and humble Irishman who loved to tell stories.

“He was special. Not too many people were like him,” son David Comer said.

“He was community grandpa. Everyone called him grandpa,” Brianna said.

Born in Ireland, he eventually came to New Jersey and raised his family in Passaic. He later developed dementia, and began living at Bayshore Healthcare Center in Holmdel four years ago.

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Due to his illness and the high cost of the nursing home, the family allowed Thomas to be under state guardianship. But they had no idea that would prevent them from finding out he passed away.

Hackensack Meridian Health, which runs the nursing home, said, “We could not legally notify the family,” and that “The law requires (the state) notify his survivors.”

It isn’t clear why that never happened.

“I think they should rewrite their policies and they should put it in my father’s name and that should be far and wide so this doesn’t ever happen again,” David said.

Hackensack Meridian agrees, saying “These privacy laws could be broadened.”

Although Thomas was buried before they could say goodbye, his family members said they are comforted to have since learned he wasn’t in pain or alone.

When asked what they both would have liked to tell him before he passed away, Brianna said, “I would want to thank him, because I feel like a lot of who I am is because of him.”

Added David, “One of the last things he said to me was take care of myself. And I won’t forget that.”

David’s loving daughter will make sure of that.


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