Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Covid Memorial Quilts at AZHC featured in Arizona Republic article

 Arizona Republic | USA TODAY NETWORK Stephanie Innes. Condensed version of the article AZCENTRAL.COM | SUNDAY, MARCH 26, 2023 | 5A with photos from the exhibit at Arizona Heritage Center at Papago Park.

University research specialist lost her 74-year-old mother, Telesfora Gonzalez, to COVID-19 more than two years ago, on Jan. 15, 2021. Her mother, a bilingual community leader and family matriarch, died before the COVID-19 vaccine was widely available, which is one of the many thoughts that occupy Pyles in a way she finds difficult to describe.
If anyone asks Queen Creek resident Socorro Gonzalez Pyles how she’s doing, she’ll typically respond with a quick, “I’m good,” even though she knows that’s not true. “It’s like you are so close to the day before, when they were still alive, even though two years have passed,” she said. “I’d call it a stunned feeling, like when you are speechless and holding your breath and everything is suspended in time.”
After more than 33,000 COVID-19 deaths in Arizona, plus other pandemic woes, many state residents such as Pyles are struggling with mental health issues, including grief, loneliness and trauma. It’s a crisis created over the past three years that could have long-term public health consequences, including shorter lifespans
Vanielle Blackhorse, a member of the Navajo Nation, lost her 28-year-old sister, Valentina Blackhorse, to COVID-19 on April 23, 2020. Her father, Danny Blackhorse, died of cancer in 2021. “I didn’t grieve how a person should grieve. I had to step up, especially after my dad passed,” she said. Vanielle still remembers the last communication she had with her older sister. It was a text message that said, “I love you. I know you’ll get better. I’ll see you when you get home.” But Valentina probably never saw it. Vanielle sent the message about 15 minutes be- fore the health clinic in Kayenta called to say Valentina had passed away.
Gauging mental health needs is not an exact science, because there are people who need help and never seek it out. And the level of need depends on who you ask.
Whether we acknowledge or recognize it, we’ve all been affected by COVID-19, even if we didn’t lose a loved one to the virus, according to longtime bereavement researcher Dr. Toni Miles, a physician, professor emeritus at the University of Georgia and visiting scholar at the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers.
“What I’ve learned over the years is that the volume of deaths in a community has an effect on community health,” said Miles, who began researching bereavement when she was a medical resident during the AIDS crisis during the 1980s. “We’re still counting the bodies with COVID. There are people who died of the disease and then there are people who died because their connection to the person who died.”
What Miles means is that whether it’s deaths due to COVID-19 or to AIDS, often other, associated, deaths occur. She gave as an example a teenager she remembers whose father died of AIDS. The teenager had asthma that she controlled, but when her dad died, she stopped taking care of herself, had an asthma attack and died. “His death killed her,” she said.
One big challenge for many individuals who were affected by a COVID-19 death is that the world appears to be moving on, “almost as if the pandemic didn’t happen,” Pyles said.
What needs to happen now is a wider public acknowledgment of the lives lost to COVID-19, said Kristin Urquiza, co-founder and co-executive director of Marked By COVID, a national organization created after Urquiza’s father, Mark Anthony Urquiza, 65, died of COVID-19 in June 2020. “It’s really important that grief is witnessed and that mourning is collective,” Kristin Urquiza said.
Marked By COVID is supporting a proposed congressional resolution to make the first Monday in March “COVID-19 Victims and Survivors Memorial Day” to memorialize those lost to the COVID-19 virus and also to recognize the suffering of those who were infected and still have side effects. The resolution was reintroduced by Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., on March 6, and companion legislation was introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

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