Family turns heartbreak over father’s COVID-19 death into support for nurses who helped him

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MANCHESTER, N.H. (WMUR/CNN) – A New Hampshire family intends to help lift the spirits of the nurses who made sure their father wasn’t alone when he died from COVID-19.

Handwritten notes from the nurses in the intensive care unit at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, New Hampshire, broke the news Sunday to the five children of Rene Johnson that their father had died from COVID-19. The notes read, “He is at peace” and “We are so sorry.”

“I just really want this to be about the nurses. They just went beyond,” said Rene’s son, Kevin Johnson.

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Kevin Johnson and his siblings had been keeping vigil in the park for days in an effort to feel closer to their father. They say it was luck that he got moved to a room with a window.

“Every day, we would just try to do a little something different. Yesterday morning, me and my brother went and had breakfast in the park to try to feel close to our dad,” said Angela Daneault, Rene Johnson’s daughter.

What no one expected is how much the vigil would brighten the spirits of hospital staff, who say they are sad and tired.

“They were kind of famous with our staff. Everyone would come in for their shift and say, ‘Is the family out there?’ And everyone would go to the window and wave,” nurse Lynn Harkins said.

The family now wants to thank those nurses, who made sure Rene Johnson wasn’t alone in his final days.

“We told him, as we tell all our patients, how much they are loved, that we are here for them. We hold their hands and tell them – Everything they tell us to tell them. We tell our patients,” nurse Kaitlyn Kerrigan said.

Despite their father’s death, the siblings plan to keep the vigils going to help support the hospital staff.

“There’s people in there that really need somebody. I’m going to make signs. We’re going to give them food. They’re going to see balloons,” Kevin Johnson said.

When asked if there was anything they needed or anything that people could do to help, the nurses at CMC said they want people to wear masks. They said to do it for them, do it for yourself and do it for those you love.

Copyright 2020 WMUR, Hearst, Family photos via CNN. All rights reserved.

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