Here’s what some children and families who have lost young parents to the pandemic want everyone else to know.
Laila Dominguez never thought she’d have to grow up this fast.
When Covid-19 struck both her parents last winter, the 13-year-old helped watch her two younger siblings and take care of her mother, who was severely sick and had violent chills.
“The cold chills were bad. She was shivering like she was in Antarctica or something,” said the girl from East Troy, Wisconsin.
Her mom, Amanda Nelson, felt like she got hit by a train. “It was hard to even get up and move,” the 42-year-old said.
But “I couldn’t go to the hospital because I was the only parent at home.”
The children’s father, Benny Dominguez, was already hospitalized with Covid-19 — and in much worse condition.
The 43-year-old, who loved bike riding with his kids and playing with them at the park, was intubated and could no longer breathe on his own.
On January 10, when Dominguez’s condition turned grave, Nelson faced an agonizing decision: try to see her longtime partner one last time, or stay with their children — ages 13, 9 and 4 — who couldn’t go to the hospital.
“It was really hard to explain it to the kids because they weren’t allowed to go up there because of their ages. So nobody got to say goodbye,” Nelson said.
“I didn’t go because I had to be here for the kids. I couldn’t leave them because I knew what was occurring. … They knew they were going to lose their dad.”
For Laila, the nightmare didn’t seem real.
“I was in a state of shock and disbelief and sadness. Sometimes, I still am in shock,” Laila said. At times, “it will get really, really dark. And sometimes it’s way too much for me.”
Her family’s home, which used to be filled with her dad’s boisterous laugh, is now eerily quiet. And the grief is now exacerbated by anxiety about the future.
Dominguez was a stay-at-home dad who took care of Laila, 9-year-old Aurora and 4-year-old Benny, who has special needs. Nelson juggled bartending and waitressing to support the family.
But Nelson hasn’t been able to work since her partner’s death. She’s been overwhelmed by her own grief while taking care of three despondent children by herself.
“I’m barely getting by and living off of whatever I had in savings,” she said.
Nelson has only a few more months’ worth of savings, she said. Soon, she will have to find a job.
And 13-year-old Laila will likely shoulder more responsibilities, including babysitting her brother and sister. Her last experience taking care of her traumatized siblings led to a panic attack.
“It’s definitely been stressful for me. I can’t explain it,” Laila said.
But since her dad’s death, Laila has gained a powerful new skill: the ability to stand up to bullies who make fun of her for wearing a mask.
Before, Laila would try to ignore such taunts. Now, she replies with a painfully blunt answer: “My dad died.”
Some bullies were stunned and actually learned from her unexpected answer, Laila said. She hopes more kids learn from her story and take Covid-19 seriously.
“What I wish they knew about Covid is how dangerous it is … and be more aware of what they say.”
A 5-year-old boy witnessed his young mother collapse
As a four-time cancer survivor, Katie Klosterman always thought she would be the one who would have to worry about Covid-19 — not her healthy, vivacious 24-year-old daughter, Tina Owens.
But during the height of the Delta variant surge, when more young people were getting hospitalized, Owens collapsed on the living room floor of her Texas apartment.
The only other person at home was Owens’ 5-year-old son, Tye. He had just finished his first day of kindergarten.
“Knowing that his last vision of his mother is stuff coming out of her nose and her mouth … it breaks my heart,” Klosterman said.
Owens told her son to go get their neighbor — a certified nursing assistant. The neighbor rushed in, called 911 and started performing chest compressions — but to no avail.