'If only he'd gotten vaccinated, this wouldn't have happened' - Albuquerque Journal

‘If only he’d gotten vaccinated, this wouldn’t have happened’

Anselmo “Sam” Gutierrez with his huskies CJ Lobo. Gutierrez died of COVID-19 in September. (Courtesy of Gloria Dominguez)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

For the past six months, Gloria Dominguez has read obituary after obituary on Sundays; those who “passed away suddenly, died quietly, went off to visit Jesus, crossed the Rainbow Bridge.”

“Nobody ever says ‘they died of COVID,’ ” she said. “I think that has a lot to do with why a lot of people don’t think it’s real, because they don’t see those faces in front of them.”

So, when it was time to write the obituary for her brother, Anselmo “Sam” Gutierrez, Dominguez wrote the cause: COVID-19. The 72-year-old – a father and grandfather of six – was unvaccinated.

“That’s what hurts the most, is he did not have to die, I wish people would open their eyes and see that this is not a game, this is not a political statement, this isn’t a power trip or anything. It’s a damn virus that kills people. Can’t put it any other way,” she said.

Dominguez said her brother was not against the vaccine and understood the risks of the virus. But, he thought he was “invincible” due to living in the small New Mexico town of La Jara, where his closest neighbor was a mile away.

The family tried their best.

“We all begged him and pleaded with him, yelled at him and threatened him … he just said, ‘No, not going to do it. I’m OK up here. There’s nobody here.’ So that was his choice, and it was the wrong one,” Dominguez said.

Weeks before Gutierrez became ill, she yelled at him to change his mind. A few days later, remorseful, she apologized.

“He says, ‘Don’t worry about it, everybody gives me a hard time.’… We mended our little bridge there and that was the last time I talked to him,” Dominguez said.

She said the family believed Gutierrez caught the virus at a funeral in August, the only gathering he went to. Gutierrez became sick soon after and was put on a ventilator within days.

“You latch on to every piece of good news,” she said. “… Somewhere deep down, you keep thinking … he’s not going to make it. But, then you say, ‘no, everything sounds good. He’s got to make it.’ ”

Dominguez said a call at 5 a.m. on Sept. 18 woke her up. Her brother, her closest sibling out of six, was gone.

“He was really a kind, lovable person. He’d give these hugs that you just don’t forget. I never had anybody hug me the way he did,” Dominguez said, her voice choking up.

They were born a year apart after their father returned from service in World War II. She said their mother died when they were young and the siblings were raised at the family ranch in La Jara.

Gutierrez graduated from Cuba High School and was drafted by the Army during the Vietnam War. Instead, she said, he chose to join the Air Force where he was based in Thailand and served for eight years.

Dominguez said her brother went on to join the New Mexico Air National Guard, known as the TACOS, and ran a jewelry manufacturing company in Albuquerque. She said he eventually joined the family business of raising cattle and moved to the ranch in La Jara.

Dominguez said her brother would visit her in Albuquerque at least several times a year and they would talk once a week.

“He would go into these long, long stories about all the things that he was working on and, after a while, I would go ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I gotta go,’ ” Dominguez said with a chuckle. “But, then you wish, now, I wish, God, I wish I (had) listened to him for hours. You know?”

She said her brother was a wonderful father and grandfather, with two sons and six grandchildren. He was living with a longtime partner when he died.

“His sons are absolutely devastated … his partner, she is absolutely devastated. She calls me every single day and says ‘I don’t know how I’m going to get by without him … I keep looking for him, I call for him,’ ” Dominguez said.

She said her brother had a magnetic personality and made literally hundreds of friends throughout his life. Even at the age of 72, he was like a child who always smiled and had a great sense of humor.

“He was real ticklish, and I would grab his neck and he would giggle. I would give him a hard time about being that old and giggling,” Dominguez said.

She said she was most impressed by her brother’s creativity, driven by an unstoppable curiosity and great imagination. His constant hobbying left him with perpetually “scratchy hands” he would tease her with.

“He would make things, he would mold things, and he would carve things and paint them,” Dominguez said. “He’d walk in your house and see something new, and he’d say, ‘Where’d you get that? How does it work?’ – Before you know it, he was taking things apart and putting them back together again.”

She said when her brother moved onto the family ranch, he set to work building lakes on the property. Then, he made waterfalls from one to the other and filled them with fish.

Dominguez said they were so peaceful to sit at. His most recent project, she said, was pulling gold from “plain, old rocks.”

“He was really something else. … You just marveled at what he did,” she said. Dominguez said she will miss the magic he made. The tight hugs and scratchy hands. And, of course, she will miss that giggle.

She hopes his obituary and his story can stop others from this hurt.

“I thought, maybe, somebody will read this notice about a really, really wonderful person and say, ‘Wait a minute, how can I put my family through that?’ If just one person read that and said, ‘I’m going to go get vaccinated because I cannot put my family through that kind of hurt and pain,’ ” she said, growing emotional. “You think if only he’d gotten vaccinated, this wouldn’t have happened. I don’t think people understand that, people do not see that side of the pandemic. What this horrible plague is. You look at the newspaper and you say, ‘Oh, 4,850 or 4,900 something’ or whatever the number is. It’s just the number, they’re not people, they’re not faces.”

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