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Family’s first Christmas after losing father to COVID-19 will be a painful one

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Posted at 9:30 AM, Dec 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-11 11:37:36-05

MILLIKEN, Colo. — Beatriz Rangel holds onto precious moments with her father. She took hundreds of pictures over the years, and now, she is more grateful than ever to have them.

Her family made time to visit each other every single week, but they also loved vacationing together.

“We’d just hit the road and go everywhere,” said Rangel of her parents and siblings.

Looking back on their moments of joy is now helping Rangel find a shred of peace.

“He loved posing for pictures and I loved taking them,” she said of her dad, Saul Sanchez. “We had so many good times.”

She never expected those memories to end so soon.

“I still have a hard time believing that my father is gone.”

At 78 years old, Sanchez died on April 7 after a weeks-long battle with COVID-19. The loss is still fresh in Rangel’s mind.

“I got a text, a group text message, from my older sister that said, ‘Dad and mom were just here. Dad can't even walk. There's something definitely wrong,’” said Rangel.

Soon after, Sanchez went to the hospital and he tested positive for the virus. That was the last time his family would see him in person.

Rangel made sure to speak to her dad as much as she could while he was in the hospital.

“I called him and he sounded great,” she said. “He’s like, ‘Hi honey, hola mija. You know I'm doing OK. I’ll be fine, I’ll be back to work on Monday,’” Rangel remembered.

However, Sanchez never left his hospital bed. Within days, doctors put the father of six on a ventilator.

“We just thought, ‘Oh they're going to help him breathe,’” said Rangel.

Sanchez’s condition took a turn for the worse suddenly and Rangel got a call she will never forget.

“They're like, ‘We want you to say goodbye, and they're taking him off the ventilator.’ I just told him that…that I loved him, and I was going to miss him, and thank you for all the lessons, but I knew he wanted us to be happy. You know, he wanted us to find joy in whatever we did, 'cause he loved life. They took him off the ventilator, and within like two, three minutes he passed away, so it was very, very hard,” said Rangel through tears.

Months later, with the pain of the loss still just as deep as it was in the spring, the true cost of this virus is becoming all too clear to Rangel and her family.

“He helped so many people, and he was, for our family, the glue. So I think we all really, really miss that. We miss that one person that always made us feel like anything was possible.”

Saul Sanchez’s life proved just that. He brought his family from Mexico to America, leaving his life behind for a better future for his children.

“He came here with nothing because of my sister Patty being sick and needing health care, and his biggest thing was education. He went and got his GED at 60, 60 years old. He didn't care about his age, he cared about what he could learn and how he could be a help to society and contribute to the community,” said Rangel.

Losing the person who cared about her family most is making a time of year meant for joy harder than she imagined, and now Rangel just hopes her community will see the hole in her heart as a warning to keep others safe.

“I feel like he was my backbone, and I don’t have it anymore,” said Rangel. “You go through, ‘Who am I?’ You’re lost, because I don’t have him to tell me, ‘Honey you’re going to be fine, you’re going to be great.’”

For the more than 250,000 Americans who have passed away from COVID-19 this year, their families know the same pain. Counselors say making time for the traditions your loved one enjoyed can help honor their memory. That’s something Rangel plans to do.

“It’s very hard to have the spirit to want to celebrate,” she said. “It is going through the motions, but we still have to do it because that's what Dad would want.”

Even though this Christmas cannot bring her the gift she really wants, Rangel knows the warmth and kindness her dad showed her will be there.

“There is a lot of goodness that went away with him, but I was thankful, grateful to have him fifty two years of my life,” she said.