“I was allowed to give a brief blessing and prayer. It lasted about five minutes. It was two people and I at St James Crematorium. I can’t say anymore.”
So said Carenage parish priest Fr Harold Imamshah after he conducted an extremely brief funeral service at 2.50 p.m. for late beloved resident and active church member Vernise Lodge, who died of COVID-19 complications on Tuesday night.
Before the service, Imamshah said the Carenage parish was plunged into mourning at her passing.
Imamshah also lauded Lodge for her steadfast devotion to the church and community, saying he was “shaken” at her passing. He said he had to “steel himself spiritually” to conduct her farewell. It was also the first funeral he has conducted without a congregation.
Prepared to meet her Maker
Lodge was one of 49 people who tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from a cruise aboard the Costa Favolosa. She was quarantined at Balandra, and subsequently moved to Couva Children’s Hospital, where she died. She was the first woman to die of the disease in T&T.
Asked to share his sentiments, Imamshah said: “She was involved in the church as a Eucharistic minister, a first communion teacher, a Legion of Mary member and a reader at Mass. I am shaken. The adult members of Rights of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), that is, adults who are coming into the church, are very shaken by her death.”
Imamshah added: “By her life, she definitely prepared herself to meet her Maker. She was very generous with the ministry. She served the poor in the St Vincent de Paul Society. She reached out to needy Venezuelans.”
Recounting his last conversations with Lodge, Imamshah said: “I was communicating with her by text when she was in Guadeloupe and Balandra. It was only when she went to Couva that I lost contact.
“But her relatives were in touch with her. They would let me know about her prognosis. It seems as if they were preparing for her passing because of the doctors’ phone calls. They were aware of her deterioration.
“When they went to the hospital last night, they probably could not have had face-to-face contact. It is sad they were unable to say goodbye.
“I will have to toughen myself spiritually and emotionally to officiate, especially because I knew her.”
When Lodge was in Guadeloupe, Imamshah said he posted a call to find creative ways to sell the Catholic News and Lodge texted him. “She said: ‘Fr Imamshah, don’t worry. I will take a few copies. I will walk around and sell them.’
“She also sent a text which said PM (Dr Keith Rowley) had arranged a flight for them to come back home.”
He also remembered: “Before she went into ICU, she sent a text thanking us for our prayers. It was the last time I spoke to her. I will miss her.”
When the Express visited Carenage yesterday, a teary-eyed woman, who stood chatting on her phone in the yard of the house where Lodge lived, said: “No comment,” when approached by the Express, and returned to the sanctuary of her home.
Pt Cumana neighbours and Carenage residents, however, remembered “Miss Vernise as a nice woman, a church-going woman”.
Carenage elder Malcolm Edwards said: “Miss Vernise was a nice woman. A church woman. I feel sad. But if it had a case down here, everybody should feel frightened. I am scared.”
Another Carenage resident, who gave her name as Cherry, said: “I did not know her. It is sad for the family.
“Everybody is concerned about COVID-19. I came out to smoke a cigarette, and drink a beer. I care about what happens to my children and grandchildren.”
San Juan Regional Corporation employee Funook Ryan, 30, said: “I heard the news about Miss Vernise last night. It’s sad. We can’t even go to her wake. We can’t go across to the house.
“I would say a prayer for her. I still want to express my condolences to the family.”
At Carenage’s Heritage Fish Stall, popular fishmonger Ann said: “We heard about it about ten minutes ago. I did not know her, but it is sad. We just have to keep safe and sanitise. Fish sales are shaky.”
Commenting on Lodge’s death yesterday, Roman Catholic archbishop Fr Jason Gordon noted she was very active in the church, and extended condolences to the family.
“Burying the dead is one of the works of mercy. And in this time of coronavirus, we are unable to do it in the way we are accustomed.
“We are also losing loved ones to natural deaths. It is just one of the impacts.
“Grieving is a human emotion. If we have been close to someone who has died, we must put aside time to pray for the person, and for the family.
“A simple thing like writing a happy memory, and just leaving it there, and remembering that person in prayer.
“It is important we all grieve for those we have lost. And we find ways to do it. Remember the person’s character and personality. Sharing of the memory is part of the grieving and the honouring of the dead person. Always place them in the hands of Almighty God.”