ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Shawntae McKee’s birthday a couple days ago came with festivity and memories she wishes weren’t hers.
Around this time last year she learned her uncle, Alvin Simmons, 54, had contracted COVID-19.
“After my birthday I hadn’t seen him until they called to let us know that he was brain dead,” McKee said.
Simmons became Monroe County’s first official COVID-19 death.
An Army veteran, Simmons had had his troubles, but McKee says his new job at Rochester General Hospital had helped him move into what she called “a second life.”
“He wanted to be around his family,” McKeen said. “He was seeing his daughter, his grand-kids. He was having all these different types of emotions and feelings, he just loved it and it just happened all of the sudden and I wonder sometimes, what was his thought when he was in the hospital? But I don’t know.”
Months after Simmons died, COVID-19 claimed the life of McKee’s grandmother.
“Our family has been falling apart,” McKee says, adding her uncle’s absence has resulted in more family arguments. “There were times when the family was arguing and he’d bring it right back so he was like the glue to the family.”
Abby Adair Reinhard has also struggled with grief over the last year.
She lost her father, Don Adair, to COVID-19.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year,” Reinhard said. “I feel like when I look back at last spring it’s like flashes of a bad movie, just moments of panic and fear and grief.”
Reinhard wrote about the experience and the story captured the attention of people all over the country.
They read about all the painful steps including the part where she and her family had to say their goodbyes through a phone placed near his ear by staff at Highland Hospital.
The same restrictions that kept them out of the hospital also prevented a proper funeral.
“My dad’s whole side of the family tries to get together each summer and we didn’t do that last summer,” she said. “We’re hopeful that perhaps with vaccinations we’ll be able to do that in some capacity this year and so and I’m hopeful this summer we’ll be able to convene in some manner and honor his memory.”
Both Adair and McKee, though, have been encouraged by their like experiences to take precautions despite promises of normality.