NO HUGS: Virus adds to widow’s heartbreak


THE hardest day of Sabina Van Stelten's life will be met with an extra challenge as the threat of coronavirus makes saying goodbye to her husband complicated.

The threat of COVID-19 has forced her husband's funeral to be held differently, with a Townsville funeral parlour livestreaming his service for the first time in their history.

It comes as the Federal Government announced all non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people would be banned to slow the spread of coronavirus as three cases have been confirmed at Townsville.


Sabina Van Stelten said she has lost her “soulmate” after the death of her husband John Van Stelten.
Sabina Van Stelten said she has lost her “soulmate” after the death of her husband John Van Stelten.


Despite the complications, Townsville Cremations directors Lori and Neville Boyle were working hard to make sure John Van Stelten has a proper farewell.

The Alice River man died on February 27 after a B-double truck and his work van collided on the Bruce Highway near Carmila.

The 59-year-old was travelling home from Melbourne after a work trip with his son and two employees, including 58-year-old Mark Dunstan.

Mr Dunstan and Mr Van Stelten were killed instantly.


John was killed in a horrifying crash on the Bruce Highway.
John was killed in a horrifying crash on the Bruce Highway.

Their deaths sent shockwaves through the wider Townsville community and left Mr Van Stelten's wife to pick up the pieces of their home servicing business, Blue Ribbon Home Services.

Mr Van Stelten, a grandfather to seven adoring grandchildren, had endured his fair share of hardships and had recently "come to peace" with the death of his daughter six years ago.

The husband and wife were planning their retirement before his sudden death.

She never expected the threat of coronavirus to throw a spanner into her husband's final goodbye.

The ban on indoor gatherings came a few days after the Prime Minister scrapped outdoor events of more than 500 people.



The restrictions were causing huge implications for Townsville businesses, but Mrs Boyle said they were adapting as best they could in the circumstances after more than 2500 people registered their interest in attending the funeral.

They had been planning Mr Van Stelten's funeral weeks in advance when they received news their service would need to be adjusted.

On Monday, they will livestream the service to social media in their first ever digital venture.

Their other services had not been affected by the new laws, but Mrs Boyle said working with grieving families in a time of social distancing was the toughest part.

"How do you turn away when a person is crying? All you want to do is comfort them," she said.

Mrs Van Stelten said the rapidly changing coronavirus threat was concerning but she was glad the service could go on.

>> John Van Stelten's funeral service will be live streamed to Townsville Cremations Facebook page from 2pm, March 23.

Originally published as NO HUGS: Virus adds to widow's heartbreak