When Claudia was expecting her third child, she had no inkling that her child would be born amid a raging pandemic, unable to be visited by friends and family who were eagerly awaiting the baby’s arrival. Coming from a big family that values gathering as much as they can, Claudia describes her experience over the past two years as lonely. Until recently, she had had limited contact with friends and family and has not visited her native country, Columbia in over four years.

While Claudia has never contracted the virus, she is still dealing with the pain that the pandemic caused to her and her family. Last month, Claudia shared her story with the COVID-19 outreach staff at the Hispanic Health Council.

What was supposed to be a joyous time for Claudia quickly turned into a stressful experience. She was supposed to be on maternity leave; however, the pandemic forced her into being mom to a newborn and a teacher to her older children. She was thankful to have her mom and her husband to assist her, but it was difficult juggling this new normal.

In April of 2020, Claudia returned to work at an urgent care just two months after giving birth. As a frontline worker, the possibility that she could bring the virus home to her mother who is older, and to her young children was her highest concern. During this time, the vaccines were not available yet. Her family have since received their appropriate doses.

The heartbreak of losing close family members and a best friend during the pandemic is something Claudia says she is still coming to terms with. Chavita, Claudia’s cousin, was first. They had last seen each other at the funeral of Chavita’s mom, who had lost her battle with cancer. Chavita was a New York City resident. She contracted the virus at a time when the healthcare system was overwhelmed, and no visitors were allowed in hospitals. Claudia was limited to communicating with her virtually. They prayed and hoped for her to pull through. Two short days later, Claudia got the dreaded call that COVID-19 had claimed her cousin. Chavita was just 45 years old and left two teenage children and her husband behind. Claudia had to attend Chavita’s funeral virtually, as did other family members. She struggled with not being able to be there for Chavita’s children and husband.

Claudia’s uncle (Chavita’s father), who Claudia described as a character and a “beautiful dancer,” was the next family member she lost to COVID-19. Cipriano, who had controlled diabetes, had lived near Chavita until her untimely departure. Reeling from the loss of his wife and his daughter, he relocated from New York City to California to live closer to the rest of his children. Less than a year later, he contracted the virus and died. He was in his 70s.

Claudia then lost her best friend, Miguel who lived in Columbia. He had frequently checked on her and her family prior to and at the height of the pandemic. Her friend was being cautious but still contracted the virus. The date of his death, July 4th is forever etched in Claudia’s heart.

Claudia says she is still healing from these losses and mentioned that the pandemic has changed her views about the world. As life takes unexpected turns, Claudia’s outlook has morphed into cherishing the time we have now. “When you have the chance to be with your loved ones, you’ve got to take it because no one knows what the future holds” Claudia says.

Claudia’s advice to others, especially now, is to take time for yourself. She said the loss of Chavita made her realize that while there is nothing wrong with giving our all to our families, we must not forget about ourselves. On the COVID-19 vaccines, Claudia, who is fully vaccinated and boosted, said it is a personal decision and respects all stances on the topic. She does occasionally find herself wondering whether the people she had lost to COVID-19 would still be here if the vaccines were available to them.