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Alicia Rodriguez spent her birthday at her father’s funeral in Roswell after the 89-year-old died of COVID-19.
During the service, a doctor called Rodriguez to say her mother had been put on a ventilator. Then another call came in that her brother – who was already on a ventilator at a different hospital – was crashing.
Rodriguez said she left the funeral and went to her mother’s hospital bedside, where she sang “Happy Birthday” to herself, in Spanish, ending on “and many more with my mom and brother Juan.”
Two days later, both her mother and brother had died.
In less than two weeks this fall, Rodriguez – one of five siblings who grew up in a boarding house in Dexter – lost nearly half her family. An uncle had also died from the virus in July.
“It was just one thing after another and you wanted it to stop and you go to bed, but you didn’t want to go to bed because your head just roars with everything,” she said, fighting back tears. “And then you don’t want to wake up the next morning, because you wake up thinking it didn’t happen … and then you don’t want to get out of bed.”
As the state’s coronavirus death toll surpasses 1,000, Rodriguez said she hopes nobody has to endure what her family has and that they take the increasing tragic total to heart.
“You just see it as another number – these are your neighbors, these are your coworkers, these are your loved ones – you don’t think it’s going to happen to you, and it does,” she said. “I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, for my family, I want people to take it seriously. … Hopefully our story will save people’s lives.”
For Rodriguez, it started with a dry cough after a family get-together on Labor Day Weekend in Roswell, where her family lived.
Rodriguez, who lives in Albuquerque, said she knew something was wrong when she learned that her mother, Maria, 79, and brother Juan, 50, also started feeling sick. All three were tested and the results came back positive by Sept. 17.
Within the week, Rodriguez recovered, while her mom and brother Juan were hospitalized in Roswell. Doctors released Juan, but a few days later, he was airlifted to a Lubbock hospital and put on a ventilator.
Then, on Sept. 23, her father, Manuel, 89, was found on the floor of his home and taken to the hospital.
“I thought OK, we don’t have to worry about Dad,” Rodriguez said, noting that the family had been concerned about him being home alone. But her father tested positive for COVID-19 and died the next day.
She said her mom, always the “happy-go-lucky” one, kept up her spirits and sense of humor; “Oh, your dad couldn’t live without me for more than four days.”
During this time, she said, her other brother Robert was also airlifted to a Lubbock hospital with COVID-19 and put on a ventilator for four days, although he eventually recovered.
Rodriguez said she tried to focus on honoring her father during his funeral, but, before the services were over, she was told that her mom was being put on a ventilator and brother Juan was at risk of a heart attack.
The next day, doctors told Rodriguez that her mother’s kidneys had given out and “there was nothing they could do.” Rodriguez went to the hospital to say goodbye.
“I … hugged her, kissed her, told her how much I loved her and thanked her for being a great mom,” she said. “… I just didn’t want to let go of her because that was the last time I was going to touch her.”
After her mother died, Rodriguez said her sister called Lubbock to check on Juan and was told his kidneys were failing, as well.
“And I said, ‘That’s it, he’s done, he’s not making it,’ ” she said. “… I was just like ‘if you’re going to take him just take him, I don’t want him intubated another week just to find out he’s not going to make it.’ ”
The family asked a nurse to tell him they loved him and missed him. He died minutes later on Oct. 5.
“I couldn’t handle it any more; it was just the ups and downs … so then you just brace for reality, there we were planning another funeral,” she said.
In her brother’s eulogy, Rodriguez told mourners she and her siblings took care of their parents, “but there was something about Juan – he was the one that did the most.”
“Juan always had Mom’s back and Mom didn’t like to travel alone, so – it brought comfort – that Juan is still taking care of Mom and he made sure that she didn’t travel alone,” she said, breaking down.
Rodriguez said she will miss her dad’s homemade salsa – made using a mortar and pestle – and his loving nature, her mother’s spunk and homemade tortillas, and her brother’s “big kid at heart” personality.
“Love hurts, but it’s worth it. I loved them so much and I will continue loving them, but that only makes the pain that much more,” she said. “We were just a very united family. … Even though my parents and brother aren’t here, I still have their love.”