CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — We’re nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic and more than 800,000 American lives have been lost to the virus. As 2021 comes to a close, NewsNation’s Felicia Bolton shared the stories of five families around the U.S. who’ve lost loved ones too soon and chronicles how their lives have permanently changed.
The Rev. John McLarty, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Wichita Falls, Texas reflects on the lives lost from his community.
“Each of these flags is a neighbor, someone that we worked with, someone that we were in community with, someone who was in our schools. And each life is important. Each life matters and we grieve their loss. This is a way just to honor their memory but also to remember as a community what we’ve been through together.”
The Austin Police Department lost Sr. Officer Randy Boyd on Aug. 25 due to complications with COVID-19. Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said Boyd’s passing was a huge loss to the department.
“He always had a huge smile on his face and just loved people and was just a very friendly person.”
Kelsey Ellis runs a support group called Waves of Grief in the Bay Area. It’s a gathering of women supporting one another as they move through their grief, led by someone who knows the subject too well.
“After the pandemic and the loss of my sister. I came to the realization that grief is so universal and it’s so hard to talk about,” she said.
Ellis lost her twin sister Audrey to COVID-19. She was one of the first people in the U.S. known to die from the virus.
“I feel her with me so strongly … She loved the water and I know if I had passed, she would be doing something very similar.”
Becky Bratcher lost her husband to COVID-19 on Feb. 5. In honor of her husband’s memory, she worked with Holton Community Hospital in Kansas to create a COVID-19 monument to recognize fallen community members.
“It truly has been therapy,” she said.
The teardrop-shaped monument is decorated with pantied stones, which Bratcher paints along with her daughter-in-law.
“Donald Redding, he liked tractors and so my daughter-in-law put a tractor in his,” Bratcher said. “He was in the military and he was native.”
Eric Robinson lost his wife, Emily, to coronavirus after she gave birth to her daughter, Carmen, during an emergency C-section, nearly two months early. She battled COVID-19 for nearly a month at Mercy Fort Smith in Fort Smith, Arkansas, before she passed away Sept. 20.
Robinson said Emily was doing well at the beginning, but then her health started to fail.
“They brought us all into the room and told us that her lungs collapsed again and she wouldn’t survive.”
Her ICU nurse, Ashlee Schwartz, started a baby registry for the family after Carmen’s birth.
“I just want Carmen to have a piece of her mom. My sister had gifted me one for Mother’s Day and I looked up one morning on the refrigerator after Emily had passed and I thought I have to get Emily’s handprints.”
Family members say they are grateful for all the community support.
“We are just keeping her memory alive, just thinking about the funny things she used to say and how she would want her family to be close together.”
Robison also urged everyone to take the pandemic seriously.
“Vaxed or not vaxed, just please take it seriously. It’s deadly — very. My wife would still be here if we took it seriously.”
McLarty said although grief is difficult, it also helps us recognize that loss is natural and can be a useful life lesson.
“It’s sad, certainly. It doesn’t diminish the lives that we’ve lost to cancer or heart disease or tragedies or anything else, but this pandemic is a unique experience in our history so we thought it was important to take a moment to grieve. Grieving is a natural part of our healing process.”