CNN Audience Shares

The things Covid victims left behind

Published May 6, 2022
Updated May 12, 2022

Kid art hero image Bullet necklace hero image Reels hero image

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 not more. Three of Uncle Ken’s bowling balls and some of his tournament trophies are on the shelves of Denise Chan’s home. “We don't talk much about his death as a family, but he lingers (on) my mind every day,” the 14-year-old wrote of her light-spirited uncle. “Every time I visit a bowling alley, I can't help but get emotional and think of him. I try to hide my emotions but end up breaking down when I'm alone.”

Ken Chan

Hicksville, New York

Oct. 14, 1966 – Feb. 4, 2021

Photo courtesy of Bobby Chan

Bronze bear Whenever Linda Clomax looks at the bronze bear on her shelf, it warms her heart and brings a smile to her face. The bear belonged to her brother, John Herman Clomax Jr., who worked on Wall Street as one of the few Black corporate bond traders in the 1980s. This bear sat in his home office, symbolizing his signature hugs. “He would give these bear hugs that would like literally lift you up off the ground,” his sister said.

John Herman Clomax Jr.

South Orange, New Jersey

May 28, 1957 – April 8, 2020

Photo courtesy of Linda Clomax

Money clip and handkerchief “Nobody wore a suit like my dad,” said Jodi Bosak. Steven W. Bosak Jr., who friends and family called Bill, was tall with broad shoulders, she said. “He just had such a presence about him.”

He was all about the little details; an engraved money clip embodied his simple elegance.

Jodi got it for her father more than 25 years ago. The front was engraved with his initials SWB, while a tiny heart and her name adorn the back.

On a family trip to Florida, her father accidentally left it on a luggage cart while he was trying to corral the family and their bags. He was crushed, so Jodi soon got him a replacement.

“That became the running joke that any time he pulled it out, I would say to him, ‘Wow, that's a really nice money clip. I wonder who got that for you?’” she said. “And he'd laugh and he'd say, ‘My favorite daughter did.’”

The daddy-daughter joke resonated even though she was his only daughter. Each time he would hold the money clip, he would tell her he wouldn’t lose this one.

And he never did. It’s now in a porcelain box full of treasures.

She also carries one of his signature accessories in her purse — a white handkerchief, so she can hold it when she needs to feel his presence.

“Often when I am driving home from work and feeling intense waves of grief, I will hold his handkerchief in my hand to feel just a little closer to him and to dry my tears because he no longer exists in the world I live in,” she wrote.

Steven W. “Bill” Bosak Jr.

Cleveland, Ohio

Dec. 31, 1938 – Jan. 20, 2021

Photo courtesy of Jodi Bosak

Guitar and fedora Ulus Crowder was a hat man, and one of his signature fedoras sits atop his daughter’s graduation cap in her home office. It’s perched near the acoustic guitar Chanel Crowder bought him late in life. Ulus would play his favorite gospel song “This Little Light of Mine” on that guitar and he and Chanel would sing together. “Dementia didn't change who he was. His character was still there, and everyone learned to respect that,” she said.

Ulus Crowder

Baltimore, Maryland

Nov. 23, 1932 – June 2, 2020

Photo courtesy of Chanel Crowder

John Deere tractor Mary Kucharek drove her husband’s prized John Deere tractor half a mile to visit his gravesite on June 15. It would have been the 30th wedding anniversary for the couple, who met on a blind date at a Burger King. Paul Kucharek had talked about getting the tractor for ages and was finally able to afford it three years ago. “I will forever keep that tractor and when I am cleaning up snow in the winter or working in the yard in the summer with his tractor, I feel like he is working there with me,” she wrote.

Paul Kucharek

Gaylord, Michigan

Oct. 22, 1960 – May 5, 2021

Photo courtesy of Mary Kucharek

‘Star Wars’ wreath A gold, silver and black wreath adorned with "Star Wars" characters hangs on Phillip Belone’s office door, a constant reminder of his sister, Philamena. “I see the wreath through the day and no longer carry the same sadness and loss I felt last year,” he said. “Now, I feel joy and appreciation in knowing Philamena left a lasting legacy and watches us from a better place.” Philamena Belone was an elementary school teacher who served behaviorally challenged students, many of whom are part of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. When her school went virtual, she regularly drove for two hours each way to drop off lessons for kids who didn’t have reliable internet access — an example, her brother said, of “her willingness to make people happy at whatever cost it took.”

Philamena Belone

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Oct. 20, 1976 – Dec. 11, 2020

Photo courtesy of Phillip Belone

Napkin notes Angela Díaz McConnell was so religious that her daughter called her Mamotere. It’s not a real word, but it’s a combination of Mother Teresa and mom. Angela was working as a sister in a religious community in Spain when she caught Covid. Eileen Díaz McConnell now cherishes a collection of white napkins with her mother’s handwritten messages. One phrase appears on most of them. YALM: Your Always Loving Mother. Most of the messages are in Spanish and a handful start off with “Hola, muñequita,” or hello, little doll, one of Eileen’s nicknames. “It was such a mom thing to do,” Eileen said. “My whole life, she wrote me notes and told me she loved me.”

Angela Díaz McConnell

Madrid, Spain

Aug. 8, 1948 – Sept. 12, 2021

Photo courtesy of Eileen Díaz McConnell