CHICAGO – The coronavirus had already taken her uncle and her grandmother. By the time Karina Reyes’ 47-year-old mother was hospitalized, Reyes and the rest of her family were all too familiar with planning a pandemic memorial.
Doctors told Reyes and her brothers that their mother, Elvia Mendoza, was not getting better. “Does a miracle have to happen for her to live?” Reyes recalls asking a doctor. She said the doctor responded: “Honestly, I haven’t seen miracles happen when it comes to COVID.”
People who care for their family members who contract the virus can end up paying for it with their own lives. The Mendoza family is one of many suffering through COVID-19's deadly path. Elvia Mendoza became ill after caring for Reyes’ grandmother. “She would sleep with her, she would bathe her, everything,” Reyes said.
Reyes, 21, and brothers Francisco Reyes, 23, and Daniel Mendoza, 19, and their father, Celso Alejandro Reyes, 44, are working to honor their matriarch’s memory and find a way forward themselves.
The Evanston, Illinois, family experienced a cascade of COVID-19 diagnoses last year, beginning in April when Reyes’ uncle, Isaias Mendoza, who had diabetes, became severely ill after contracting the virus. He spent a month in the hospital before he died.
For a few months, the multigenerational household had a respite from the virus — “everything was fine up until November,” Reyes said. Her older brother traveled with their grandmother to Mexico for another relative’s funeral, and when they returned, they both eventually tested positive for the virus.
“We didn’t think it was possible, because they were socially distancing, they were always wearing a mask,” Reyes said. But her brother and grandmother, Reyna Mercado, started feeling ill. With a fever, Francisco Reyes quarantined in the family’s basement, but their grandmother, who used a wheelchair, was not able to quarantine, she said. Her father also tested positive and has since recovered. Reyes and her boyfriend, who lives with family, tested negative for the virus.
In December, Mercado was hospitalized, and the family made the difficult decision to place her in hospice care. She died Dec. 17.
The day after, Elvia Mendoza was hospitalized, too, after spending her days worrying about a proper burial for her mother. She missed the Dec. 22 burial.
Paying for the burials and medical care has been hard; many in the family have been unable to work during the pandemic. Reyes, who is a college student and also worked part-time, said her mother did not have health insurance. The family has a GoFundMe campaign to help with the costs. It has raised about $8,000.