More than 1,200 Missourians have died from COVID-19 since the first confirmed case back in March. With new data and every day, the human aspect of that loss can get lost in the numbers. Angela Kender is looking to change that.
After losing her mother to COVID-19 in June, Kender has decided to organize a project to commemorate her, and everyone else who has lost loved ones to the disease. She’s collecting photographs of those lost at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kender plans to take the photographs to the Missouri state capitol during the current legislative special session.
ANGELA KENDER: My mom, she was a very inspiring woman and she was always standing up for what she believed was right. And so, in the weeks of thinking about her being gone and what that meant and how isolated I feel, and how I don't see that our government at all levels is responding in the way that I think they should, I thought maybe what would help is if they actually see all of the people that have been lost.
HEALTH & WEALTH: And how have you gone about trying to reach other people who have lost family members, and how has that gone so far?
KENDER: I joined some- started looking for Facebook groups or like support groups for people who have lost family members. And I found a St. Louis-area one, and also some nationwide Facebook groups as well. And then, you know, I've gotten family members that have reached out saying things like, "I'm 28, my little brother is 25 and our father just died and we're completely devastated and expected to have so much more time with him. We would love to have him be represented." So there's been all, people providing me ideas of how to get the word out so I can get more photos and people involved. But then also people reaching out and saying this has happened to me too. And I've found from these Facebook groups that I've joined that there's just a huge community of people that are going through this extreme loss. And truly feeling like no one else understands what's going on.
H&W: As far as the public comments that the governor has made about COVID-19, how do you feel he's talked about the human loss aspect of it, or do you feel like he hasn't really touched on that so far?
KENDER: No, I mean what I've heard is him say things like, "Yeah people are going to get it and they're going to get over it." Like that's what it is, that's the answer. And to me that's not an answer. To me that's very cold and horrifying from someone whose job is to truly look out for the people in this state. I mean, you have no idea who it's going to affect very, very negatively and who is going to be asymptomatic. So to just, you know, say, "you're going to get it, you're going to get over it," is just extremely callous.
H&W: Can you tell me a little bit about your mother, what was she like, what did she do?
KENDER: Well she's a doctor, she has a doctorate in psychology. She's a licensed professional counselor in Missouri. She had her own private practice for many years, has helped many, many people. She was also a professor in the master's program at Missouri State for counseling. So that's been a few years ago, several years ago. She also was a very spiritual woman, lots of faith, lots of fun, laughing. Loved her grandchildren, loved me. She was a single parent and I am an only child, and so we were always together. She loved all fun and every day she told me, "be sure and have fun, go have fun." Because I think she really recognized how valuable life is.
H&W: I know it's probably hard to talk about, but what was the process like for you in terms of finding out your mother had the virus and trying to be there for her?
KENDER: I talked to her every single day, and her- it just got harder and harder for her to talk. And you could hear the struggle in her breathing. And, you know, she didn't look good and she didn't sound good. But she was making whole sentences, I could communicate with her. And then Wednesday, I got to video conference with her again, and it was like a whole 'nother experience. She wasn't putting sentences together anymore. Before it happened, that Saturday morning they let me video conference with her again, and I got to say all the things that you want to be able to say. But she was completely unresponsive, she didn't even twitch a finger. And I decided, at that moment that I didn't think that it would be in my best interest to watch through the video conference either. I spoke- there was a chaplain when it was actually happening, there was a chaplain that called me and he was standing outside her room. And I talked to him through it.
H&W: And so, does the knowledge that more than 1,000 other families in Missouri have gone through this, was that one of your motivating factors in pursuing this project?
KENDER: Yeah absolutely. I want us all to feel like our loved one is being acknowledged. That the loss of our loved one is important. And the best way that I can come up with right now to do that is to have them represented, their picture, their faces represented at our capitol so that our elected officials have to see what has been lost. And what this virus is doing; is taking away from our state.