Stories: Who We Have Lost

Love Notes

Story aboutGene Fitzpatrick

My husband Gene put sticky notes with words of love all over the house–in cabinets, drawers, etc. After he passed, I found one in a box that I’d never seen.

Thank you, sweetheart.


Story aboutMartin B. Coll, Jr.

After my dad died, I was sitting on the floor in his living room going through his wallet. Folded in half, I found a yellow post-it note with these words on it: “There is always – always – always something to be thankful for.” Even after he had died, my dad was showing me how to live my life.


Story aboutJames Vance

James was a police officer and we used the word “Always” to let each other know we were safe. If I was traveling, he would tell me to be careful and I’d reply “Always.” If he was at work, and something was bad going on, I would get a text “Always.” When getting that text, I knew he was ok and would call or message when he could. It became our stability.

Please Come Home Safe — Always
Be Careful — Always
Let me know when you’re there — Always

I Love you Always JD, I Miss you Always

It was a cold morning in early December; the start of winter was coming, and the air smelled like snow. I had just come inside from walking my dog and stood in my kitchen debating what task to jump into next when my dad called. We speak daily, so his call was not unusual, but he was not his typical jovial self, “Jenn,” he said, “I just got off the phone with your mother’s husband. Your mother was hospitalized with COVID. She is not going to make it.” My head began to spin. How is this happening? My dad had already fought and survived COVID at home for weeks due to overcrowded hospitals. I fell to the floor sobbing, unsure of what to do next.

My parents had been divorced for more than 20 years. My mom and I had a complex relationship. I had not spoken to her since starting trauma therapy a few years earlier. I placed boundaries before beginning treatment at the advice of my therapist. I thought about my mom every day, but I was angry at the neglect and abuse I experienced throughout my life.

Growing up, my home was unstable. We were a working-class family, which put stress on the household. My dad, a combat veteran with PTSD, drank to cope with his memories of Vietnam. My mom grew up poor in an abusive household. She was forced to leave school and sold into an abusive marriage as a child, which she escaped years before meeting my dad. My parent’s trauma was evident in the house but not spoken about or addressed. Their untreated mental health issues meant there was a lot of unpredictability in my daily life.

But, my mother was a warrior. She went back to school as an adult, earning a master’s degree in psychology in 2012. She was endlessly creative. She painted, made jewelry, did woodworking, wrote a play; she was self-taught in almost all she did. However, her unresolved trauma and mental health issues also seeped into everything she did.

I could not believe the cruelness of the end of her life, given how much she had already endured. I was not allowed to be with her; no one was. My mom was dying alone and in pain. She deserved more. We deserved more.

I called my mother’s cell phone with my sister Amanda on the line. It took multiple calls for her to pick up. When she did pick up, she did not sound like herself. She was depleted, continually struggling and gasping for air — this sound still haunts me.

Shortly after she picked up, I said, “Mom, I have never stopped loving you. I just needed to take space to be safe. You were abusive.”

My mother responded slowly and quietly between gasps for air, “I know. I’m sorry. I love you.”

Instantly, every ounce of hurt and anger towards her vanished. We began to share stories about better times. We laughed. She told us not to cry, and that she was ready to be done with the pain. I thanked her for her role in helping my sister and me break the cycle. There were countless times that I had wanted a parent to protect me, to ease my pain, and in her last moments of life, she gave me that.

The pain that I carried from my trauma was replaced with rage towards the government systems that failed my parents repeatedly, impacting their ability to keep me safe. Less than two days after our brief conversation, my mom died alone from COVID-19. After all my mom had survived, she died at sixty-six years old due to the government’s mishandling of the pandemic. Her death was preventable.

In the coming days, my mom’s life would be boiled down to a fifteen-minute virtual service. My sister, an essential worker living over eight hundred miles away, had her final viewing of our mom in a casket over Facetime. We were forced to mourn separately.

I vowed to fight for accountability and justice in my mother’s name, and her resiliency allows me to fulfill this promise. Yes, I carry intergenerational trauma, but I also possess intergenerational strength. I will keep fighting for COVID justice for my mom, Earla Dawn, and the hundreds of thousands of others who deserved more.


Story aboutDuane Ochodnicky, Jr.

We were preparing for our upcoming wedding by attending a retreat out of town. It was February in Michigan and temperatures were extremely low. We were given the choice to stay at the center that was freezing cold or leave and come back the following day. We decided to leave and find a place to stay that had heat. Snow was coming down quickly and soon turned into a blizzard. Every hotel in town was booked, so we returned back to the center, only to find out that they had locked the doors for the night. We didn’t know what to do, so we decided that we could try to sleep in the car. Two adults in the backseat of a Dodge Neon is not very comfortable. We tried to cover up with whatever we could find in the backseat to keep warm. Magazines, newspapers, nothing seemed to do the trick. We just held each other tightly. Mostly for warmth, but also for comfort. I knew that as long as he was with me, I was safe and we could get through any situation. We often looked back on this story and laughed. It really was a good way to sum up our marriage. We went through hard times that would break most people and we got through it by staying together. We were a team.

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