Elderly West Java woman with COVID-19 found embracing daughter’s decomposing body

Funeral of SY by local authorities in Balongan district, West Java’s Indramayu regency. Photo: Balongan district
Funeral of SY by local authorities in Balongan district, West Java’s Indramayu regency. Photo: Balongan district

Residents of Balongan district in West Java’s Indramayu regency recently made the heartbreaking discovery of a mother holding onto the decomposing body of her daughter ⁠— a case that illustrates how medical attention for COVID-19 is a privilege for many Indonesians.

When they were found on Friday, the mother, identified as 70-year-old ST, was lying down and embracing her deceased daughter, 56-year-old SY ⁠— the latter of whom was estimated to have died three days prior to the discovery. 

ST and SY lived in a building owned by a local resident, which had originally been planned to be transformed into a cowshed. According to reports, the mother and daughter were allowed to live in the building out of the pity of their neighbors, as they didn’t have a home after SY’s husband died. 

When they were found, SY’s body had decomposed and was oozing a rotten odor, which alerted local residents. When they saw the two women on the floor, the neighbors thought that both ST and SY were deceased.

“When [her body] was shaken, the mother, ST, showed signs of life. She hugged her dead daughter for three days,” Balongan district secretary Encep RS said on Monday

SY reportedly commuted on a regular basis to Jakarta, and fell ill not long after a recent return from the capital. Sohekah Nurdiani, who heads the local puskesmas (community clinic), said that while SY likely died from COVID-19, they cannot determine it to be the cause of SY’s death, explaining that it was impossible to conduct a PCR swab test as she had been decomposing.

However, ST had since tested positive for the coronavirus, which added weight to the suspicion that her daughter succumbed to COVID-19. It’s likely that ST lost her sense of smell due to COVID-19, which would explain why she seemingly did not smell her daughter’s decomposing body.

ST is currently undergoing self-isolation under the supervision of the local puskesmas and the village task force, the latter of which is supplying her with food and daily necessities.


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