Editors' note: Every death has an echo. Every life lost reverberates across generations. Since March 2020, nearly 320,000 Americans have died as a result of COVID-19 — that's more people the U.S. lost in combat in World War II, or in all wars combined since then, by far.
How do we keep the people behind those staggering numbers front and center? How do we retain our humanity, when we've been numbed by tragedy?
That is the essential work of FacesOfCOVID, a project created by Alex Goldstein. Every day on Twitter, FacesOfCOVID shares the people behind the statistics, creating a space where people can mourn their loved ones and connect with a large (and tragically, growing) community of people who are also grieving. To date, the project has shared more than 4,000 stories.
Cog is collaborating with FacesOfCOVID, and in the coming months, we'll be sharing some of these stories.
We're starting with Karen Nascembeni of Lynnfield. Karen and her husband of 20 years, Steven T. Richard, contracted the coronavirus in March. Karen's words have been edited for brevity and clarity.
When coronavirus reached the area, I was already really sick with a sinus infection. So I was pretty run down. But Steven and I, we went to depths of illness that neither of us had ever experienced before.
I remember calling my doctor and saying we've never been so sick in our lives, and she said, "Jeez, Karen. It sounds like you have coronavirus."
On the morning of St. Patrick's Day, Steven became gravely ill. And that's when I said to him, I'm going to call an ambulance. And he said, "No." He said, "Please drive me." And so I drove him to Winchester Hospital. And when we got there, there was a staging area, because it was total pandemonium. And they came out and they took him immediately because he was so sick. And when he got out of the car, he turned around and he smiled at me and he said, "I love you." And he blew me a kiss. And that was the last time I saw him.
I met Steven through a mutual friend. And I looked at him and I thought, my God, he's the boy next door.
He was probably about 5 feet, 8 inches. He was in very good health, and good shape, because he was so physical in his work as a contractor. He had very kind, loving eyes.
Steven was the kind of guy that if we were in a bar or a restaurant and one of my girlfriends was leaving before we were, he would walk them out to their car to make sure they got there safely, even if the car was in eyeshot of where we were sitting.
[W]e had a very charmed life together ... I can look back and appreciate it now. But in the moment I knew how special it was.Karen Nascembeni
He liked nothing more than a home-cooked meal — and I very rarely ever cooked for him, because I was always so busy working. But when I did, he lit up like a Christmas tree.
He was passionate about children and animals, neither of which he had. We tried getting pregnant, but went through seven rounds of in vitro fertilization and it didn't work. But he was a very sensitive, gentle soul. People would confess their deepest, darkest secrets to him, because he was just that kind of guy who would hold it in his heart.
I mean, we had a very charmed life together. And the beautiful part of that is it's not it wasn't lost on me in the moment. I can look back and appreciate it now. But in the moment I knew how special it was.
We had a tradition on Christmas morning that we never did big gifts. But we would do stockings. We'd put a clementine in the toe of the stocking and fill it with gifts. The Eric Tingsdad/Nancy Rumbel album called “The Gift” would be playing in the background and we would eat poppycock in bed. (Poppycock is kind of like Cracker Jacks on steroids.)
And that is one of my biggest fears is Christmas morning — not having him there to eat the poppycock in bed. So instead what we're doing is we're buying poppycock and we are delivering it to people so that they will know what that joy feels like to eat poppycock in bed on Christmas morning, because it's really delicious.
I was admitted to Winchester Hospital on St. Patrick's Day. I was in a medically induced coma for 31 days. I woke up on April 20, which was Steven's birthday. It was like he sent me back.
When I woke up my sister said to me, "You know, KK, I'm never going to lie to you." And I said, "I know that." And she said, "Steven didn't make it." And I said, "I know that." And she said, "Well, how do you know?" And I said, "Because he was with me the whole time I was in the coma."
I was having these horrific hallucinations. And he was always there in the corner of the room with a glow around him and just smiling at me. He never spoke to me and he would just kind of shake his head knowingly, like, you're going to be OK.
This piece was produced by Frannie Carr Toth and Cloe Axelson, with help from David Greene and Michael Garth.
This segment aired on December 22, 2020.