Pearl Lane was full of life: she still baked regularly, made trips with her daughters and loved her grandchildren with all her heart.
A dedicated Christian, the eighty-three-year-old woman never missed a church service. She spoke in the women’s meetings and sang in the church choir.
And by all accounts, her devotion to her husband and her children was even greater.
“She was a sweetheart,” said her daughter Kim Hibbs. “She just loved life.
“She wasn’t ready to go.… She still had a few years left on this earth. And she was taken from us too soon.”
Lane died in October after contracting COVID-19 as part of a cluster of cases linked to the First United Pentecostal Church in Bishop’s Falls, N.L.
Botwood sisters grieve years COVID-19 ‘stole’ from their mother
4 months agoDuration3:00Kim Hibbs and Beverley Dean say COVID-19 stole years from their mother, Pearl Lane. Lane was a dedicated mother and churchgoer. She died of COVID-19 in October. 3:00
Hibbs and her sister, Beverley Dean, say their mom’s death could have been avoided, if COVID-19 prevention measures were more strictly followed during church services in September.
“If they had went by the government rules and the protocols that were in place and wore their masks and done the six-feet distancing, then this would have never happened,” said Hibbs.
Rev. Leroy Gee, the head of the church in Bishop’s Falls, refused an interview. In an earlier interview in October, he said physical distancing, sanitizing and mask-wearing “was not a hard problem because we don’t have a big crowd.”
Hibbs and Dean point to a series of gatherings in the first half of September called “camp meetings.” That’s where they believe their mother and father were exposed to the coronavirus.
Dean said people gathered from across the province and from as far away as New Brunswick, for the meetings.
“What I can gather is that the church was packed to capacity. There wasn’t no social distancing. There was no government protocols. There was no mask-wearing,” Hibbs said.
“My mother went to one of the ladies in the church and was concerned about people not wearing their masks properly. And there were people there not wearing masks at all. And the lady just shrugged their shoulders at her.”
Dean said the meetings should never have been held in the first place, and that Gee should have known that COVID-19 was spreading in the province.
She also said that the pastor would have seen that COVID-19 protocols weren’t being strictly followed among the parishioners.
“It could have been avoided,” she said. “As a leader of a church, a pastor, he should have stepped up. And having these services did not help.”
In the week leading up to the Sept. 10 meetings, 34 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The fall of 2021 became the deadliest stretch during the pandemic in Newfoundland and Labrador. From March 2020 through September of this year, the province reported eight deaths from COVID-19 — but then, in October, there were eight deaths in a single month, and three separate clusters developed in central Newfoundland.
Dean said she believes a cluster of cases in the Botwood and Bishop’s Falls area grew out of their mother’s church, but Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Health only identified a group that was “socially connected.”
The provincial government also did not issue any testing recommendations for attendees of those early September meetings at the church. Instead, it issued a public exposure notice for a barbecue at the church later that month.
Multiple parishioners of the First United Pentecostal Church in Bishop’s Falls died after contracting COVID-19.
Of the 10 people who died in the Central Health region of Newfoundland and Labrador, nine were unvaccinated, according to Dr. Monika Dutt, the region’s medical officer of health.
‘We have been in a generally good place through most of the pandemic. We have seen people who have died, which again, we don’t want to see, but it had been quite low,” she added.
“So the fact that so many people died in such a short amount of time was really quite tragic and sad and I guess surprising in that we did not want or expect that to happen.”
Hibbs said her mother wasn’t vaccinated, but was planning to be before she became ill.
“She was in the process. Her and Dad were going to go to Shoppers Drug Mart and get their needle,” she said.
“Very defeating. It’s sad, is what it is.”
Dean said others in the First United Pentecostal Church were reluctant to be vaccinated, saying instead that COVID-19 cases were low in the province, and they would wait and see.
Both sisters also say that one parishioner spoke in front of a group at a church meeting and falsely claimed that vaccines were more likely to kill the parishioners than COVID-19 was.
In an interview with CBC News in October, Gee said he did not discuss COVID-19 in his sermons or in his church. He said he was vaccinated himself, and that should have been an example, but said he did not “preach vaccination” in his church. He also called the choice to be vaccinated a personal one.
Dean said the pastor should have done much more.
“If the pastor stepped up, he should have went to everyone and said to them, ‘Everyone here in this congregation, I would appreciate if you get the vaccine shot because if it doesn’t even come into this church, at least you’re safe,'” she said.
In that October interview, Gee said he felt no responsibility toward the COVID-19 cases connected with his church as he never forced anyone to attend.
Gee also said that the majority of his services were small, so physical distancing was not an issue. He said he had even set up an alternate viewing area for anyone uncomfortable with sitting with a larger group.
“I often say to people when they come to church, ‘I didn’t see nobody come in with a gun to your head or anything like that,'” he said.
Lane’s daughters called the pastor’s interview, and that comment, hurtful.
“My mother was the most dedicated Christian lady that I’ve ever met in my life, and no one’s got to put a gun to my mom’s head to go to church,” Dean said.
Both their mother and father caught COVID-19. Their father recovered, but the sisters saw their mother fall further and further into illness in hospital.
“My mother suffered. And that’s one thing that she always said that when she passed that she would never want to suffer. Right? And she suffered,” Hibbs said.
The two sisters must now prepare to mark Christmas without their mother.
They say their father is heartbroken, and it’s still hard to believe that their mom is gone.
“I wake up in the morning with Mom on my mind. I go to bed in the night with Mom on my mind,” Dean said.
“She just had a birthday. She was 84 on Nov. 3. And we had a little birthday party up to my dad’s. We sang Happy Birthday, and it was unbelievable, my mom should be still here.”
“I don’t believe it was Mom’s time to go.”