Alex Pe doesn’t want his mom, Pilar Palacios Pe, to be lost in the ever-climbing COVID-19 mortality statistics.
His mom was more than a number. She was a woman who left him several voicemails each morning before he woke up to make sure he was eating well, that he wasn’t sick, that he was hanging around with good people. She was a person who was known to spontaneously break into song and dance at the grocery store or airport, just to make others smile. She was a nurturer who lured Alex, a 34-year-old corporate lawyer in Washington, D.C., home to the family farm in Charles County, Md., for a week—a month before COVID-19 was known to have entered the U.S.—so she could take care of him while he battled the flu.
Pilar, 64, died May 14, a month after she contracted COVID-19 while working as a nurse at Adventist HealthCare Fort Washington (Md.) Medical Center.
When it first became apparent how potentially deadly the virus was, her family had urged her to retire for her own safety. She refused.
“She considered it a duty to do her part to do what she could,” Alex said. “I don’t think she took herself so seriously. She never thought of herself as a hero but that was a pretty heroic response.”
Pilar’s husband, Odirolf, and her youngest son, Nicholas, who was home from college, both contracted COVID-19 from her, Alex said. Odirolf was hospitalized for two weeks.
“Thankfully, he was able to pull through. Unfortunately, my mother wasn’t so lucky,” Alex said.
Pilar was transferred to the University of Maryland Medical Center after going into cardiac arrest twice at a hospital near her home. Down the hall, Odirolf was battling COVID-19 and could hear staff rushing in as his wife coded.
The family was unable to have a traditional celebration of life for a woman raised in the Philippines, and who built a home for herself and her family in the U.S. The funeral service was limited to 10 people—the pastor and nine family members, all of whom had to sit in separate rows and couldn’t hug one another—and was livestreamed for friends and coworkers.
“It’s so peculiar, COVID loss. It’s so unique in that you have to deal with this in isolation. There was no gathering; there was no celebration,” Alex said. “There’s no sense of closure that you get from your typical end-of-life rituals.”
The healthcare staff who worked with his mom were “super compassionate” and even called to check in on Alex, he said.
“They were just expressing how sorry they were. You could tell how much it kind of hit close to home to them. They would get choked up talking about her situation because they could see themselves in her,” Alex said.