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A test confirmed his mother, Lois Marie Lehtinen,
died of COVID-19. Lyons is thankful he had the
opportunity to be with his mother as she died.
“We were able to be with her – my sister and myself.
We, of course, had our personal protective equipment
on. ... We had to FaceTime the rest of our family in,”
he said. “Little did I know that’s what I was going to
be spending my next two months doing with other
Lyons’ hospital and the surrounding area soon
emerged as the Upper Midwest forefront in the battle
against the coronavirus.
“We’re in western Wayne County, which is the county
that Detroit is in,” Lyons said. “Detroit was a hotspot.
The hospital was very impacted by COVID, so I spent
the next two months with COVID patients as they
died, FaceTiming families that could not or didn’t want
to be at bedside due to COVID, and it was all quite
The hospital ultimately received a visit from Dr.
Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the White
House Coronavirus Task Force, who expressed thanks
for the efforts to fight the virus and prevent further
spread. Lyons said hospital employees were honored by
“We were on the map as far as one of the hardest
hit. There’s a reason she was there,” Lyons said. “At
one point, in our 300-bed hospital, the majority were
The city of Livonia reported more than 180 COVID-19
deaths through Nov. 20.
Lyons said he and the other hospital chaplains “tried
to create ritual” while “trying to be present and caring
for the decedents in a respectful manner.”
The hospital reportedly had the most coronavirus
patients of any facility in the St. Joseph Mercy region of
Trinity Health system.
“We were able to provide ritual for the temporary
morgue, which seemed to help the chaplains and staff
cope in the midst of such a devastating time,” Lyons
said. “Knowing that so many people were dying, the
chaplains were overwhelmed too. We couldn’t be with
everybody. We could have as many as 12 to 14 deaths
+ Chaplain Larry Lyons with his mother, Lois Marie Lehtinen, who
died in March of COVID-19.
a day at the peak. It was just physically impossible. The
frontline staff, the nurses, were carrying this burden and
doing things they normally wouldn’t be doing. It was
heartbreaking for us.”
The chaplains tried to be present at shift changes to
support the hospital staff. Ongoing challenges have
included a lack of recovery time for the staff and possible
cases of post-traumatic stress disorder from the first
wave of the virus. The local Roman Catholic convent,
which founded the hospital, was not spared from the
“Thirteen of our Felician sisters died,” Lyons said.
The Detroit Free Press reported that 30 nuns in
Livonia were sick with the coronavirus. According to
the National Catholic Reporter’s Global Sisters Report,
“the 13 Felicians lost in Livonia may be the worst loss of
life to a community of women religious since the 1918
Lyons appreciated how patients’ family members
treated him and the other staff during the difficult
conditions. Some family members were allowed to be
with patients, but many had to stay away and connect to
the patients virtually.
“We would try to have the FaceTime or video ready
so family could be present. ... The resiliency of families
in the pandemic was amazing. They understood they
couldn’t be there with their loved one or they chose not
to be for health and safety reasons. They understood
this was global,” Lyons said. “At one point, I was on the
phone with a family checking on them after their loved
one had died, and the gentleman stopped me on the
December 2020 — pg. 21