White Napkins With Handwritten Notes: Here’s What One Covid Victim Left Behind

White Napkins With Handwritten Notes: Here’s What One Covid Victim Left Behind

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CNN Audience Shares By Christina Zdanowicz and Austin Steele, CNN Published May 6, 2022
Updated May 12, 2022

An engraved money clip. A pulse oximeter. A child’s drawings.

These items are personal reminders of the pandemic’s terrible toll. Some bring comfort; others elicit heartache.

The US is mourning 1 million lives lost to Covid-19. CNN asked people to talk about the items their loved ones left behind. These are their stories.

Child’s drawings Teresa Sperry’s parents will never know what kind of artist their 10-year-old daughter would have become.

“When she grew up, would she sing, would she draw, would she sew?” asked her father, Jeff Sperry. “I’ll never know now how it would have ended.”

Jeff and Nicole Sperry found pages of drawings and doodles in Teresa’s room. The artwork spanned her life: abstract paintings, drawings of girls and animals, homemade messages for her parents. The Sperrys also found recordings of Teresa singing with her deep, raspy voice — which sounded like Billie Eilish.

Their little girl died just weeks before children her age could get vaccinated.

“When I look at her stuff, it breaks my heart because she’s my only girl and she looked like me from day one,” Nicole said. “I just look at it and then I’ll smile, and I’ll cry a little bit.”

Teresa’s father admits he’s not artistic, but he’s taken to using her art supplies with his son, Mikey.

“It’s very difficult for me,” he said. “But doing art projects with him is kind of a way to keep her presence.”

Teresa Sperry

Suffolk, Virginia

Feb. 22, 2011 – Sept. 27, 2021

Photo courtesy of Nicole and Jeff Sperry

Cardinals carving Gladys Aldrich would whistle out the window to the cardinals and they would whistle back. “She perfected the cardinal call,” said her granddaughter, Kelsey Roadfeldt. Gladys loved cardinals. Whenever she saw one, she thought it was her late husband saying hi. Before his own death, he carved a pair of wooden cardinals that now peer at Kelsey from her wall. “It still gives me mixed emotions as I am still grieving for her,” she said.

Gladys Aldrich

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Feb. 11, 1930 – June 10, 2021

Photo courtesy of Kelsey Roadfeldt

Aftershave One whiff of her father’s British Sterling aftershave takes Joan W. Bartlett back to memories of him getting ready for work. John A. Richardson was a math teacher and special education coordinator for over 20 years at Farragut High School on Chicago’s West Side. The musk and wood smell also evokes him gearing up for weekend jazz gigs, where he played his beloved saxophone. “The smell brings us comfort and happiness. It helps us feel like his presence is near,” she said. “At times, it also brings sadness as we realize he is no longer here, and we miss him dearly.”

John A. Richardson

Oak Lawn, Illinois

April 6, 1936 – April 12, 2020

Photo courtesy of Joan W. Bartlett

Bullet casing Raymond Pizarro served in the Minnesota National Guard and was deployed to Iraq and Bosnia. At his funeral, veterans packed the church wearing Hawaiian or graphic T-shirts to honor him. A reminder of that painful day was turned into something beautiful for Chea Boyle. She received a bullet casing from her brother’s 21-gun salute and had it made into a pendant. “It’s marred because it’s been shot,” she said. “But I don’t want them to fix that.” Chea wants it to stay imperfect so she can remember where it came from.

Raymond Pizarro

Fargo, North Dakota

July 12, 1972 – Jan. 10, 2022

Photo courtesy of Chea Boyle

Slides and home movies As G. Scott Sober poured through 35 mm slides and 8 mm and 16 mm home movies, all he wanted to see was his dad. In the 4,000-plus slides and 95 reels, he struggled to find images of Jim Sober Sr. because his dad was always behind the camera. “I get to relive my dad through these objects that he created,” he said. “He still lives in these items to me. Whether he realized at the time or not, he was providing something that could outlive himself.”

Jim Sober Sr.

Decatur, Alabama

May 23, 1942 – Jan. 27, 2021

Photo courtesy of G. Scott Sober

Pulse oximeter Beep beep, beep beep, beep beep. The staccato melody of a pulse oximeter was a constant in the Ahmed household.

Shafi Ahmed had been living with a looming end-of-life deadline for years after being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that damages and scars the lungs.

“The pulse oximeter was more of a part of the family than even some family members were because it always had to be there,” his son Asrar Ahmed said. “The batteries always had to be fully charged, and before he got up, before he ate, before he sat down, we had to put that thing on and it got to the point where checking of oxygen became second nature to us.”

Asrar’s father was a vociferous reader who loved to talk international politics and tell stories of his childhood in India. He had a strong Muslim faith and a fierce love for his children and grandchildren.

Shafi’s youngest daughter was getting married, and the family deliberated if it was safe enough for him to attend. He was immunosuppressed and taking steroids, which made him more susceptible to Covid-19.

“If I missed my daughter’s wedding, what’s the point of living?” he asked.

The whole family attended the Christmas wedding. Everybody was vaccinated and boosted; Shafi wore a mask and lived for that day. Soon, though, he started to feel sick.

Nearly the entire family tested positive for Covid-19. Shafi was not doing well and his pulse oximeter “would not shut up,” Asrar said.

“It was like this beeping sound that just drove me insane because it kept telling me he’s sick, he’s sick, he’s sick.”

Shafi never made it back home. The pulse oximeter rests atop his nightstand. The family doesn’t want to touch it; Asrar swears it still smells like his dad.

He holds it dear, even as it haunts him.

“I have never hated and cherished an item as much as I do, his pulse oximeter,” he wrote.

Shafi Ahmed

Morton Grove, Illinois

Sept. 3, 1951 – Jan. 4, 2022

Photo courtesy of Asrar Ahmed

Grandma’s knitting One of the ways Gabriel Cordova’s grandmother would show her love was through knitting. His “Mema” hand-knitted blankets, hats and more for her children, nieces and nephews and grandchildren. The family takes comfort in having these items close as they grieve for her. Gloria Labbe also knitted items for the homeless and those facing mental health issues, which Cordova hands out to his social services clients who need help staying warm. “I would take them to the office, and people just automatically knew that they were knitted with love,” he said.

Gloria Labbe

Colorado Springs, Colorado

June 5, 1940 – Jan. 12, 2022

Photo courtesy of Gabriel Cordova

Christmas decorations Just two days after losing his “Mema,” Gabriel Cordova’s mother died. When Lisa Labbe was first admitted to the hospital, it was Christmas Eve — her favorite time of year. “I could literally open a Christmas shop with the things she had,” Cordova said. Seeing his mother’s crystal angels brings back memories of sitting around the table at Christmas, he said. The family would gather to make tamales, eat their grandmother’s empanadas and their mother’s menudo. “This was her way of showing love and bringing everybody together, and we’re going to go ahead and carry on this tradition,” he said.

Lisa Labbe

Colorado Springs, Colorado

July 27, 1958 – Jan. 14, 2022

Photo courtesy of Gabriel Cordova

Bowling balls Ken Chan bowled at least once a week, if no

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