As French COVID toll hits grim milestone, a bereaved family mourns

FILE PHOTO: Julie Grasset poses with a portrait of her father Patrick Grasset, who is one of nearly 100,000 people in France to have died of COVID-19, at her home in Levallois-Perret near Paris, France, April 9, 2021. Picture taken April 9, 2021. REUTERS/Noemie Olive

LEVALLOIS-PERRET, France (Reuters) - Patrick Grasset is one of 100,000 people in France to have died of COVID-19, a milestone reached when the official death toll from the pandemic was updated on Thursday, but his daughter Julie wants him to be remembered as her father, not a statistic.

The hardest thing about the pandemic, she said, was the way it makes death anonymous and impersonal.

Because of safety protocols, she could only communicate with her father via SMS in his final days, he died alone in his home and he was cremated the same day with no family present.

"No one heard us, no one talks about us," said Julie Grasset, a 27-year-old human resources professional who lives on the outskirts of Paris. "We are dealing with our bereavement and our pain alone."

Now, as the numbers of COVID-19 dead mount, bereaved French people like Grasset are pressing the government for recognition for those killed by the virus, starting with a state-organised memorial.

"We have to honour our dead," said Sabrina Sellami, whose father and brother died from COVID and who is campaigning for a day of remembrance.

France has the world's eighth highest COVID-19 death toll, according to Johns Hopkins University in the United States, which tracks the pandemic.

Julie Grasset said the way her father died left her struggling to deal with her grief.

At home and with worsening symptoms, he called four times for emergency medical care but he was not admitted to hospital, she said.

His daughter received a phone call on March 25 last year notifying her of her father's death. Three-and-a-half hours later, when she contacted the funeral home handling his body, she was told his cremation was already underway.

On May 18, she was given his ashes to bury. "There was an urn on a desk and I'm told: 'There, that's your father.' What am I supposed to say to that?" she said.

(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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