Like many families who have lost someone during the novel coronavirus pandemic, the family of John W. McDaniel, 60, who died April 15 in Ohio after testing positive for the virus, planned to live-stream the funeral.
But his widow, Lisa McDaniel, told friends and family in a letter published by the Snyder Funeral Home in Marion, Ohio, that his Wednesday funeral would instead be privately recorded after her family endured a deluge of angry and even mocking messages from strangers upset that he had described the coronavirus outbreak as a “political ploy.”
“During this time of mourning, John’s story, along with early assumptions that he stated on Twitter and Facebook have turned into national news,” Lisa McDaniel wrote. “This news has opened the flood gates for people to share their own misguided anger and unfounded assumptions about a man they don’t know.”
The story of McDaniel’s death went viral after his obituary was published April 16 in the Marion Star. People shared the news with harsh criticism, in some cases essentially blaming him for his own death, for comments he allegedly made on social media before he got sick. His family says those strangers don’t know the full story.
“Sadly, he is not with us and we will forever have to live and cope with how his life ended far too soon,” his widow wrote Wednesday. “Further, we will never be able to erase from our hearts and minds the negative posts that have been made and shared about John this past week.”
In late March, McDaniel struggled for five days in his hometown hospital before being transferred to a hospital in Columbus, about 50 miles south, to be placed on a ventilator, his sister said in a Facebook post.
He had voiced skepticism about the pandemic in posts to Twitter and Facebook, which have since been deleted, in mid-March as Ohio shut down restaurants, bars and other businesses. His social media posts suggested aggressive social distancing measures were politically motivated, called the new restrictions “paranoid” and criticized Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, R, for closing bars and restaurants in the state. McDaniel’s posts date to the early days of the U.S. outbreak, at a time when Ohio had no deaths and many states were still open for business. As of Thursday morning, Ohio has had 14,117 cases and 610 deaths.
After his death, strangers shared his obituary and images of his old posts on social media, venting frustration over people who have not taken social distancing seriously in recent weeks.
Lisa McDaniel said her husband would have changed his tune if he hadn’t fallen ill himself.
“Many, like John, made statements early on not fully aware of the severity of COVID-19,” she wrote. “Many have retracted their statements knowing now the effects of this pandemic. We know if John was still here with us he would acknowledge the national crisis we are in, abide by the stay-at-home order, and encourage family and friends to do the same.”
In fact, she said, her husband, who was the president of an industrial manufacturing provider called O & M Company, told his employees on March 16 to work from home because of the virus. As soon as he learned he had been in contact with someone who tested positive, she said, he isolated himself so that he wouldn’t infect anyone else.
“As each day passes, we all are learning more about this ‘invisible enemy,’ ” Lisa McDaniel wrote. “We have all learned that the early actions taken by our National and State government were indeed the right action to take. Quarantine and social distancing have been effective in flattening the curve.”
John McDaniel graduated from Ohio State University in 1981 and was an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed fishing and boating, according to his obituary. People described him as a storyteller. He joined his father at O & M, the family business they ran together.
Those who know the McDaniels have shared kind words both in the comments of their Facebook posts and on his obituary page.
“I will always remember the amazing person he was,” one woman shared on the obituary’s online message board. “He was always open for a hug. Always laughing and telling stories.”
Ohio reported its first case of covid-19 on March 9. The first death followed on March 19.
One of the first states to implement restrictions on businesses to encourage social distancing, Ohio plans to roll back those measures beginning May 1. The number of new coronavirus cases reported in the state has consistently decreased since its peak on Sunday, but the state recorded its highest number of deaths, 53 in a single day, on Wednesday.
Despite the overall dip in new cases, a hot spot has recently emerged inside the state prison in the McDaniel’s hometown. At the Marion Correctional Institution, more than two-thirds of the inmates - 2,011 people as of Wednesday - have tested positive for coronavirus and more than 150 staff members have also been infected.
With the pandemic already killing more than 47,200 people in the U.S., few families have been able to honor loved ones lost to the virus at traditional funerals. Instead, many have turned to live-streaming very restricted services on Facebook so that friends and family can grieve together without breaking social distancing guidelines.
But Lisa McDaniel and her two sons decided against a live stream after the hurtful messages that pervaded social media in the week since her husband’s death.
“Wanting to protect my family and John’s legacy, we have decided not to live-stream his the funeral via Facebook today,” she wrote in the letter shared by the funeral home. “For those who were tuning in to share in our grief for your loss, we sincerely apologize.”
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