ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The curveballs and cruelties life throws at us didn’t stop coming because of a pandemic. Guns still kill, abusers still abuse. We still get hurt, still get dangerously sick for reasons having nothing to do with viruses.
These unexpected tribulations are made all the more painful and complicated and lonely under shutdown conditions.
They’re the collateral damage of COVID-19.
But when somebody rises from these dark passages in these dark times, we take special joy in that triumph. We find new ways to celebrate, socially distanced and safely.
We throw a little parade.
On Tuesday, two such parades honored two people who endured calamity in the time of coronavirus. Both have long, rough roads ahead of them, but for a few moments the roads in front of their respective homes were filled with well-wishers waving from their cars with banners and balloons and bunches of love.
Gotta have friends
It’s been so long since Alice Townsend has seen the faces of her family and friends that it’s hard for some to remember exactly when the 83-year-old Albuquerque woman was rushed from her doctor’s office to the hospital for an emergency amputation of her right leg, gangrenous from diabetes complications.
Townsend said she believes that happened in late March. Best friend Lucille Kinzer said she believes it was early February. (One of Townsend’s daughters says it was April 1.)
Regardless of specifics, it was a very long time to be away from loved ones.
“It was terrible because the hospital and the rehab center wouldn’t allow visitors because of the virus,” said Kinzer, 95. “No flowers, no cards, not from her friends, not from her family.”
The two had become fast friends after meeting through a support group for widows and widowers at their church. Kinzer lost her husband nearly six years ago; it’s been four years for Townsend. Their friendship and connection to the group made life alone less lonely.
“We hit it off right away because she’s very lovable,” Kinzer said. “She drove me all over the place because I can’t drive any more. She took me everywhere – Walmart, out to lunch, the casinos – she’s one of the luckiest people.”
What drove both women to near despair during Townsend’s recovery was the isolation.
“It was like I was in prison,” Townsend said.
Last Saturday, Townsend came home, welcomed by a son, a granddaughter and her dog Star – all three who will see to her care while she continues to recover.
Tuesday’s parade, organized by Kinzer, was the first time she could see her friends, each driving by in cars bearing flowers, cards and baskets of goodies.
“Nothing sweet,” Kinzer admonished. “She has diabetes.”
What is sweet for Townsend is seeing her friends again, especially Kinzer.
“It’s very emotional for me,” she said, breaking into tears, on the eve of her parade. “I missed them so much. I missed people. I missed being here.”
A grainy black and white video tells the tale.
The light changes. A Mustang and another car slowly enter the intersection at Holly and Louisiana on Friday night when a third car races at what appears to be a high rate of speed through the intersection from another direction, slamming into the side of the Mustang and barely missing the other.
Philip Henshaw, 18, was driving that Mustang.
Friday’s crash took away the La Cueva High School senior’s ability to walk without assistance, at least temporarily. It took away his Mustang, his job and almost his life. COVID-19 had already taken its share.
Last weekend, he was supposed to host an end-of-school celebration with eight of his closest friends.
On Tuesday, he was supposed to graduate with honors from La Cueva.
This week, he was supposed to board a plane with his family for a trip to Hawaii, a graduation gift.
This fall, he was supposed to attend Arizona State University in Tempe – his first and only choice of colleges.
None of that is happening now.
“He’s lost so much,” said his mother, Melanie St. Georges. “It’s so unfair.”
St. Georges is the owner of Blissful Spirits Hot Yoga studios. Even before Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered establishments like hers shut down under COVID-19 restrictions, St. Georges had closed her well-attended studios for the safety of her clients.
With business shuttered, college tuition money to supplement what scholarships and grants don’t cover has dried up. Vacations, exotic or otherwise, are out.
“I’m looking at a really hard time,” St. Georges said. “A lot of dreams are being lost.”
Then came Friday night.
Just before 9:30 p.m., Henshaw left his job at a pizza place on Holly and headed home three minutes away when his Mustang was struck on the driver’s side, pinning him inside the crushed metal.
The crash was captured on a resident’s nearby surveillance camera.
Henshaw suffered three pelvic fractures, a lacerated spleen and bruises to his lungs and intestines. He remained hospitalized for three days but is now home recovering, using a walker to get around.
Henshaw is like so many graduating seniors who have lost out on celebrating their accomplishments, but he is alive. His dream to attend ASU may be in jeopardy, but other dreams are still possible.
Of all the things her son lost, St. Georges said the one that hurt the most was not being able to say goodbye to his classmates, some he may never see again.
So she decided to throw him a parade, inviting as many La Cueva friends as she could reach, plus firefighters and paramedics who responded to the crash and some yoga friends.
These parades are how we continue to commemorate the milestones in our lives, to welcome back those we love, to remind ourselves that COVID-19 has taken away so much from us, but it cannot take us from us.
That’s worth celebrating.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column.
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