COVID-19 has taken the lives of nearly half a million Americans and over 2.3M people worldwide.
It’s impossible to process what that means fully: each number represents the end to a unique journey. Contained in the anonymous numbers are the untold stories and memories of people who often passed away, often alone. In some cases, they could say goodbye to loved ones virtually. After their passing, families may have a small private service.
For a New York Times obituary writer, Glenn Rifkin, the sheer numbers of obituaries made his assignments feel different. Before, his assignments were a way of “confronting death while celebrating a life.” However, due to the pandemic, the sheer numbers left him at times emotional and numb. Even so, each obituary “cut through the burgeoning numbers,” as he hoped to illuminate a “journey that mattered.”
“These are not just statistics; these are people with names and faces and a seat at the dinner table. There is, in each instance, the belief that their time should not have been up. There was more, often much more, to live for,” wrote Rifkin.
By writing, he could provide a “bit of immortal recognition” to honor a meaningful life for relatives and loved ones.
In that spirit, we share quotes remembering people lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Elvia “Rose” Ramirez, 17
In his “Those We’ve Lost” column, Rifkin shares Elvia Ramirez’s story.
In October 2020, Ramirez, a Native American from Parshall, was the youngest person to pass from COVID-19 in North Dakota. She was in her senior year of high school and enjoyed sharing joyful Tik Tok videos.
Elvia was extremely proud of her heritage as part of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation. One day, she thought about teaching Native American history. Notably, her family lived on a Native American reservation, with limited medical resources.
“She was like ‘I don’t know if you can get paid for that,'” her mom fondly said.
At 17, Ramirez had big dreams of marrying her boyfriend, going to college, and taking her twin brothers and sister to Disneyland.
Someday, the “always smiling” teen hoped to be a “cat mom” who enjoyed taking care of her younger siblings.
Then the pandemic hit, taking a hard toll on Native American populations.
Elvia’s mother, Susan Three Irons, cared for her daughter when a nearby hospital wasn’t equipped to handle the rising Covid cases. Then, the hospital staff insisted she could not stay in the room, and she had to talk by phone.
“I told her I loved her, and she told me she was scared,” said Ms. Three Irons.
Afterward, the mother came down with the virus and required care herself. On October 6, she joined Elvia on a video call from her hospital room. During the call, someone turned the phone to the floor. Meanwhile, the young girl went into cardiac arrest, and doctors performed CPR for 25 minutes.
“I didn’t think my daughter, at 17, would die from a virus almost like a cold, that you catch as easily as a cold,” Elvia’s mom told Good Morning America.
A Final Goodbye By Phone
Later, Ms. Three Irons learned what had happened. After her daughter passed, a nurse held the phone to Elvia’s ear so her mother could say goodbye. She told her she was proud to be her mother.
“I told her I loved her and that she could rest now, to be at peace,” she said.
Reflecting on her daughter, Ms. Three Irons remembered how much fun she had with her siblings and how she put others first.
“She always thought of everybody else first,” Ms. Three Irons said. “She was always there to cheer up her friends and volunteer to help out when people needed her.”
On February 3, Elvia would have been 18 years old.
More about Elvia Rose Ramirez from KX News:
Wanda “Peppa” Key, 63
Wanda Key, known as “Peppa” by most people, had a personality described as larger than life and “like magic.” As a nurse practitioner, she provided Nashville mental health services for three decades.
“She was a friend, trusted colleague, and compassionate servant to her patients,” wrote the Center of Hope for Behavioral Health.
According to PBS:
“A beloved daughter, sister, and mother, Peppa often shared a favorite quote with her sons: ‘What we achieve inwardly will change outward reality.'”
On COVID Memorial on Facebook, Wanda Key’s niece Lita shared:
“She is a mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, aunt, a friend (to so many), and a nurse. She had a larger than life personality, unlike any other. Peppa was loving, supportive & protective. She would fight for the underdog and for the rights of others. If she saw an injustice, she would speak out. You do not often find all these wonderful traits in one person.”
Wanda Key left behind two sons, KaRon and Jamal Jordan.
Healthcare Heroes Lost to COVID-19
Everyday heroes, nurses risked their lives every day to help those suffering from COVID-19. In late January 2021, the Middle Tennessee Nurses Honor Guard read the names of 19 Tennessee nurses who died in 2020. Each name represented a heroic nurse who died working to save pandemic victims.
According to the CDC, over 1,374 health care workers died since the pandemic began. In addition, over 397K healthcare personnel tested positive for the virus.
Since families couldn’t be together, nurses like Wanda Key acted as stand-in families for each person.
“It’s been a very difficult situation,” said organization president Shelly Cole, “we want to take care of our patients, but when the family can’t come in because of safety, the only thing we can do is be their family for them. It’s heartbreaking.”
See more about Wanda Key and others in the tribute from PBS NewsHour below:
James Glica-Hernandez, 61
For over two decades, James Glica-Hernandez was the musical director for the Woodland Opera House in California. After weeks in the hospital fighting COVID-19, he passed away at 61 with his husband David by his side.
A friend of Glica-Hernandez, who worked with him at the Opera House, shared her memories of him with ABC10:
“He believed so passionately about other people’s abilities and other people’s potential that he helped them to believe in themselves,” said Amy Shuman.
As he taught music, the beloved teacher was aware of its therapeutic benefits.
“James knew all along that music is therapy—and to keep singing,” she said.
A Generous Soul
Sacramento Mayor Pro Tem Angelique Ashby shared a tribute on Facebook:
“His connections are not only deep but extraordinarily meaningful to so many. He is described as hilarious, fun, passionate, and endlessly proud of his family, friends, and students,” she wrote.
In addition to his role as a vocal teacher and musical director, he advocated supporting mental health resources in the community.
“His breadth of work was so wide. Only someone with his generosity could have done what he did to help the county,” Jenifer Price of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Yolo County said.
Until the end, he was full of gratitude for others.
“He was so full of life and gratitude himself that he was always just pouring it out,” Price said.
See a tribute from ABC10 below:
In a final Facebook video from the hospital, Glica-Hernandez warned others about the virus’s dangers and to offer “blessing to you all.”
Struggling for breath, he said, “Your love and support make all the difference in the world. Your generosity of spirit has been overwhelming.”
James Glica-Hernandez was featured in a PBS NewsHour video to remember five extraordinary lives lost to COVID-19.