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Two People Who Lost Parents To COVID-19 Are Advocating For Other Grieving Families

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Courtesy of Kristin Urquiza and Fiana Garza Tulip
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Left: Kristin Urquiza and her father, Mark Anthony Urquiza. Right: Fiana Garza Tulip and her mother (Isabel Papadimitriou), grandmother and daughter. Both Kristin and Fiana lost a parent to COVID-19.

On this week's episode of “Side Dish,” TPR Bioscience Medicine reporter Bonnie Petrie speaks with Kristin Urquiza and Fiana Garza Tulip, each of whom lost a parent to COVID-19.

Urquiza lost her father, Mark Anthony Urquiza. Her obituary for him was shared by hundreds of thousands of people, bringing her to national prominence and leading her to become an outspoken advocate for families of those who’ve died of COVID-19.

Once her obituary went viral, Urquiza was invited to speak at the Democratic National Convention:

“I’m Kristin Urquiza. I’m one of the many who has lost a loved one to COVID. My dad, Mark Anthony Urquiza should be here today. But he isn't. He had faith in Donald Trump. He voted for him. Listened to him. My dad was a healthy 65 year old his only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that he paid with his life.”

Urquiza said her father’s illness was painful, especially in his final days.

“I would not wish a COVID death upon my worst enemy. It is undignified you die alone. And you're scared. You have you're in a medically induced coma but you're still aware. And you know you're in the ICU, you're not allowed to see your loved ones. And you can hear some of the things that are going on,” Urquiza said.

Garza Tulip lost her mother, Isabel Papadimitriou. She said she didn’t have time to process her mother’s illness before she passed. In the maelstrom of emotions that comes with the sudden death of someone you love more than life itself, Garza Tulip packed her family up and they drove from their home in New York to her mother’s home in Dallas.

And then, carrying out her mother’s wish to be buried in her South Texas hometown of Brownsville, Garza Tulip and her family drove another nine hours. It was on that trip that Garza Tulip wrote her mother’s obituary.

Garza Tulip, inspired by Urquiza, wrote what they both call an honest obituary, and now Urquiza and Garza Tulip help other people submerged in their own torrent of grief write obituaries for loved ones through the organization Urquiza started after her dad died, called Marked By COVID.

Garza Tulip said her favorite memory of her mother was when she would come from work.

“She used to work for Mary Kay, and she had these songs that they would learn to kind of pump them up and get them you know, excited about selling Mary Kay products and she taught me that but she also taught me some chance some empowerment chance. And my favorite was the chant,” she said.

Garza Tulip said the chant was simple:

“I'm sure she made up. It would go ‘fight, fight, fight for what you know is right. Fight, fight. Fight for what you know is right.’ And I would march around like this. I would just follow her and she would go up and down,” she said.

Like Urquiza, Garza Tulip said she had trouble finding closure in her mother’s death.

“In my heart, I feel like her death was preventable, and that it didn't need to happen,” she said. “And, you know, the process of grieving just isn't really there for us, you know, I mean it's there, but it's not easy yet everyone's grieving we can't be there for each other because we've all lost someone we can't gather because it's dangerous.”

Nearly 200,000 Americans have died from the disease since February. Roughly the same number of people who live in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Bonnie Petrie can be reached at Bonnie@TPR.org and on Twitter at @kbonniepetrie
Fernanda Camarena is a veteran of the public radio programs Latino USA and Reveal. She is a senior editor for The Texas Newsroom.
Dominic Anthony Walsh can be reached at Dominic@TPR.org and on Twitter at @_DominicAnthony