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Mourning, delayed

Vicki Dean Mayhew, next to a photo of her and her late husband, Mike, works on a camera at APT Camera Repair on Friday. The Mayhew family is one of many facing an inability to gather and mourn their late relatives due to restrictions over coronavirus. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Vicki Dean Mayhew, next to a photo of her and her late husband, Mike, works on a camera at APT Camera Repair on Friday. The Mayhew family is one of many facing an inability to gather and mourn their late relatives due to restrictions over coronavirus. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Vicki Mayhew misses so much about her husband, but the little things the most.

Watching “Star Trek” together every night, side by side. Adding his favorites, like pickles, to the grocery list. Seeing him on the recliner she moved into the office they shared, after he got sick.

“The empty chair is my hardest part …” she said, wiping away tears. “I still have it here, I can’t bear to take it.”

Now, adding to to the grief, the family of Mike Mayhew has to wait to say goodbye.

“Emotionally it’s really hard. We want to gather as a family, and we want to honor him and embrace his life, and we can’t do that,” she said. “He’s already gone; I can’t bring him back. There’s no closure, at all. The flowers that people sent have faded. …”

The Mayhews aren’t alone.

The COVID-19 pandemic is leaving many grieving families with an awful choice: Postpone services indefinitely or scale them down as public health officials urge people to avoid crowds in order to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But a small memorial service isn’t an option for the Mayhew family, who have hundreds of friends and family members wanting to pay respects.

“We put an obituary in the paper … but we weren’t even able to put a date down because we can’t have a date until all of this cloud clears over the coronavirus,” Vicki Mayhew said. “I’m not the only one here. … There’s a whole community of us who have lost family.”

Mike Mayhew, seated on couch, poses with his wife, children, grandchildren and extended family in 2019. (Courtesy of Vicki Mayhew)

Mike Mayhew, seated on couch, poses with his wife, children, grandchildren and extended family in 2019. (Courtesy of Vicki Mayhew)

Tom Antram, president of French Funerals and Cremations, said his biggest concern is lingering grief.

“They’re not getting a chance to fully gather together to have that goodbye. It’s important to have an opportunity to grieve,” he said.

Antram said roughly half the families he has been dealing with are choosing to bury or cremate their deceased relatives and to postpone services. In the meantime, he said, the company is offering no-cost grief counseling. “It’s unknown of how long this will last, so even postponements are question marks,” he said.

Some have chosen to hold services amidst the quarantine.

On Friday morning, four family members and a priest had a service at French’s Lomas location as others watched through a live stream.

“What they’re missing is that human contact – the hugs from the friends, wishing them well and telling them that they can help take care of them,” Antram said. “That human contact is really what helps in the grief process. There’s an old saying – ‘grief shared is grief diminished’ and right now grief isn’t being shared.”

He later added, “It’s a new world right now, we’ve been living in that world for two weeks. We’ll see where it leads.”

Vicki Mayhew hopes these weeks don’t turn into months.

“I have no control over it, so I have to try to make the best of it,” she said. “Because my new normal is he’s not coming back, there’s an empty chair here, there’s an empty chair at my house.”

Mike Mayhew died Feb. 22 at age 67 after a long battle with lung cancer.

The Navy veteran and devoted father of four spent decades giving back to his community – whether it was mentoring Boy Scouts, volunteering with Little League or running APT Camera Repair, a shop that maintained equipment for newsrooms and Albuquerque police, among others.

More than 200 were expected to attend his service.

At least 40 relatives and friends were planning to fly in from around the nation to attend the service originally set for April 4.

Vicki Mayhew said they made the difficult decision to postpone the service once the church where it was going to be held, Saint Mark’s Episcopal, closed.

Although several people had to cancel hotel and flight reservations, many were relieved as they were worried they wouldn’t be able to attend due to the pandemic.

Vicki Mayhew is trying to stay positive as she waits for that final goodbye.

“I have to trust that it will all work out in the end and that there will be closure, and being miserable and impatient about it isn’t going to do anybody any good,” she said. “You have to realize that things happen that are out of your control and you have to do the best you can to manage them and give back where you can.”

For now Vicki Mayhew is keeping busy by working – behind locked doors – in the camera shop and sewing makeshift surgical masks for friends, relatives and those in the medical field. She likes to think that her husband, a man with a “wicked sense of humor” who enjoyed “Blazing Saddles” and brightly colored underwear, would be able to find some glimmer of levity in the entire situation.

“He would think that it was comical, because he was born in the middle of a hurricane and he went out in the middle of a pandemic. I think that is exactly how he would feel about it,” she said, with a laugh.

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