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West Michigan families grieve loved ones lost to COVID-19

Posted at 9:18 PM, Nov 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-20 22:20:22-05

FRUITPORT, Mich. — From canoeing the Canadian bush to coaching soccer in Caledonia, Jack Berends lived a life on the go.

“Saturday mornings, when we would want to sit down and watch cartoons, it was just like a no-go because he’d be up by 6:30 already out there,” said Ryan Berends, Jack’s youngest son. “My dad was just the energizer bunny when I was young. Just instilled in us, a strong work ethic.”

Born in Byron Center in 1940, Jack grew up and eventually moved a few miles east. He married his wife, Lois, and raised four sons. Jack taught high school math for 36 years and worked in construction during the summers to help make ends meet.

“He did a lot of these activities [ like ] taking groups of high school kids or junior high kids, that kind of went along our age groups,” said Ryan. “He took groups out to Colorado skiing - load a van up or a couple vans up and there would be maybe 20 kids out there. Took kids canoeing up in the Canadian bush for a week, where it’s just you and whatever you could carry into the lakes and paddle across.”

But this week, COVID-19 slowed Jack down. Wednesday he joined the 8,377 Michiganders who have died due to the virus.

“The COVID kind of started mild, then really gripped him to cold,” said Ryan.

Ryan says his father contracted coronavirus from his assisted living facility in Fruitport. The positive diagnosis came two weeks ago and three trips to the hospital followed.

Ryan was by Jack’s side in the final days.

“I told him I loved him and that his family loved him,” said Ryan. “That he did good raising our family, and the kids, and all the people that he impacted. I said it was ok for him to leave the earth and go off.”

On Friday the number of cases in Michigan increased 9,779 from Thursday, setting a new daily record for cases. The number of deaths increased by 53.

As the Berends now cope with burying a loved one, the family asks Michiganders to take a step back and remember who COVID-19 is impacting, explaining one day soon they’re be able to go out again, just like Jack would want.

“It’s about people and families, people getting sick, and in this case, dying,” said Ryan. “You can help by wearing a mask,or help by just limiting what you do outside of the home. If we can all just decrease the risk and do our part, hopefully there will be a better outcome.”

The Berends family thanks the staff at Mercy Health for their help during the pandemic.