One year ago, Lisa Santos lost her mom to COVID-19.
“I turned to the nurse in the hall and said she doesn’t know we’re here, this isn’t fair she has to leave thinking that her kids don’t love her,” said Lisa through tears one year ago.
Seventy-three-year-old Sandra Ott, from Rancho Mirage, the wife of former Palm Springs and Cathedral City attorney Raymond Ott, was among the first to die from the virus in Riverside County.
“I kept thinking this can’t be real, this really ca’t be real, this can’t be happening,” recalls Lisa who says having to say goodbye to her mother in the hospital behind two layers of glass still haunts her, “I wanted to swing the doors open and expose myself to this virus because I wanted to hug my mom one more time.”
Lisa says she’ll never forget the young nurse who held up an iPad in the room that allowed her to communicate with her mom and stayed with her, “Holding someone’s hand as they take their last breath, she said it was an honor to do it because she couldn’t imagine my mom not being with someone.”
Back then there was so little we and experts knew about the virus. She gave us the interview in shadow and didn’t want to be identified because of the stigma surrounding COVID.
“The best way to describe it was a ‘Twilight Zone’ because we didn’t know, CDC didn’t know what to do with the bodies, … if she wanted to be placed in the ground and not cremated that wasn’t an option … personal items she had with her like her purse was cremated with her, anything that her body came in to touch with was destroyed,” she says.
She hadn’t only lost her mom but like everyone else she had lost the world she knew.
“I‘m trying to process losing my mom but I‘m also trying to process like where are we going to get food what is happening? And then I went home and I was on quarantine for months because I had to sign waivers that I agreed to a 90 day quarantine because I entered the COVID ward,” she says.
Eight days before her mother’s death, the county announced the first COVID cases in the county. A year later the virus has claimed over 4000 lives in the across the county.
“I feel for all 4,000 people and all their families because it never stops hurting, never because that means 4,000 people died alone,” she says.
And the loneliness doesn’t end with the death.
“You can’t mourn together, there’s no such thing and I feel really ripped off about that, I really do, you mourned alone in quarantine,” says Lisa.
She says she honored her mom by making and giving away 450 masks, “It was my own tribute to my mom, my mom didn’t have a mask.”
During a year filled with death, she says she learned a lot about life, “There’s really no purpose in the end unless you love each other.”