Grieving family: 'Say his name out loud' - Albuquerque Journal

Grieving family: ‘Say his name out loud’

Terry Overbay was a big, loud man, his red hair in his youth an apt reflection of his bright, bold personality.

Over time, the red turned to white. He grew out his beard. Taken together with his oversized character, he looked and acted a lot like Santa Claus.

So he became Santa.

Each Christmas since at least 2016, near as anybody can remember, he volunteered to play the jolly man at VFW posts and fire stations near his home in Jarales. Last year, he became Santa at the skilled nursing facility in Albuquerque where he was then residing.

“He just liked making people happy,” family member Ann House said.

This year, he will not become Santa. On Nov. 30, he became “A male in his 70s from Valencia County,” hospitalized, with “underlying conditions” who died of COVID-19.

Terry Overbay

His death was included in the state’s daily COVID-19 numbers Dec. 2, which that day reported a record number of 40 fatalities. That record was broken with 44 deaths the next day.

On Sunday, New Mexico tied that daily record. On Tuesday, the state exceeded 2,000 deaths from COVID-19.

The United States also passed a grim milestone this week, surpassing 300,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the first known death Feb. 6. It’s now the leading cause of death in the country, killing more people than heart disease or cancer.

Since the holiday season, that death rate has accelerated. According to Johns Hopkins University, an average of 2,403 people in the country die every day of the virus – or about a death every 40 seconds.

We know these numbers. We hear new and worse ones every day.

But numbers are numbing unless we put a face to each number, a grieving family to each face.

Unless we keep saying their names.

House has seen how names disappear as the numbers rise, how as soon as Overbay was officially counted among the dead he seemed to be counted out.

She wrote about that on Facebook and in an email.

“His name was Terry Overbay,” she wrote. “And I mention his name because immediately upon death he seemed to become a number, a statistic or somebody’s something – pick a relation.”

She urges us to say their names.

So she says his.

Terry Overbay, 72, enjoyed playing Santa, given his large size and white beard. He died Nov. 30 of COVID-19. (Courtesy of the Overbay family)

“Say his name out loud,” she wrote. “He was a father, a grandfather, a brother, a nephew, an uncle, a cousin. He was a veteran, an artist – and sometimes Santa. He died from ‘underlying conditions,’ which means you’re expendable. He lived in a nursing home and has been in isolation in his room since March. COVID is relentless, and people are careless. Say his name.”

Overbay – Terry O to his friends – was a Vietnam War veteran. He volunteered at the VFW in Los Lunas. He loved target shooting, gun collecting, gardening, playing pool, reading, art and “thinking big thoughts,” his obituary said.

He had two daughters, one who lives in Atlanta, one who lives in his heart after her death in 1995.

“He fiercely loved his family,” House said.

In late spring, he was moved from the Albuquerque facility to the Belen Meadows Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Belen. Last month, he tested positive for COVID-19.

“He told his daughter he felt like he had a bad cold, a little flu-ish, but that he was going to beat it,” House said.

A week later, his breathing became labored and his oxygen-saturation level plummeted. He was taken to the intensive care unit of the VA Medical Center in Albuquerque.

Two days before his death, he told his daughter on FaceTime he was sorry she had to see him looking so poorly and that he loved her.

“Even if he knew he was dying, he would have put on an optimistic face,” House said.

After his death, it was as if he had no face at all.

“It was like his name just vanished,” House said. “He vanished as Terry the person as soon as he was dead.”

Except to those who knew and loved him.

Weeks ago, many of us thought of COVID-19 as affecting “them,” not us. They were numbers, faceless people we didn’t know.

It’s not like that anymore.

Every day, I hear from those in my circle who have become sick with COVID-19 or have someone close to them who has COVID-19 or someone who has died of COVID-19.

Today, they include the names of one of my sons and one of my sisters and her husband. Thankfully, they are still alive.

“It used to be we could ask each other how many people we knew who had come down with COVID and maybe we could say one,” House said. “By fall, people I asked were saying they could count at least seven.”

Not all of those people have died. But too many have.

And too many still think of COVID-19 as just the flu, as a violation of our rights, as an inconvenience, as a hoax.

To those people in particular, House wrote this:

“Say his name to people who think this is fake because they don’t know anyone with it or who have died from it. Say his name to those gathering without proper protocols and heading off to work, to put their masks on only when they walk through the door. Say his name as an example as to what can happen to those in the aging population who might possibly be exposed. And if you still wish to gather, hug, touch, be sure to take lots of photos, because there just might be a vacancy at your gathering next year. Say his name because this, my friends, is hard. Make him more than a number. Say his name.”

And so we say Terry Overbay. We say their names as acknowledgement of their lives, as remembrance, as prayer, as a way to make real the numbers, as reminders of what we must do.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793,, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.

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