New Yorkers remember loved ones lost to COVID-19: 'I wasn't able to be there when she needed me the most'

Marquise Francis
·National Reporter & Producer

While death is something that rarely comes easily, the coronavirus pandemic has made it that much harder as those who perish from COVID-19 often must do so separated from their loved ones for fear of further spreading the virus.

Once the epicenter of the pandemic, New York City has recently flattened the curve of new COVID-19 cases and deaths, yet it still leads the country in both categories. As of Tuesday afternoon, the city had reported more than 222,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 22,600 deaths. Nationwide, more than 2.9 million cases and more than 130,000 deaths have been recorded in the U.S.

As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during an April 12 press briefing, every person who has died during the pandemic left an impact. “Every one is a face and a name and a family that is suffering,” Cuomo said. “I want every family to know they are in our thoughts and prayers … and I want them to know New Yorkers did everything humanly possible to be there for their loved ones, and try to save those lives.”

In an effort to pay tribute to those who have died during the pandemic, Yahoo News spoke with some of the family members of those who have passed because of COVID-19.

Satch Young lost his two best friends, Darlene “DeeDee” Saulter and Moe Kirby

The two closest people in Satch Young’s world were taken from him by COVID-19. Both of his best friends, Moe Kirby and Darlene “DeeDee” Saulter, died less than a month apart. Kirby passed away on April 15 at the age of 52 and Saulter, who was 58, on May 11. Young talked to both of them every day, sometimes multiple times a day just to check on them.

Young and Kirby were community activists and refereed basketball games together all over the city. They hosted parties together and organized youth basketball tournaments in Brooklyn. Young had known Saulter since he was 12 years old. They grew up in each other’s houses in Far Rockaway, Brooklyn, and stayed close for decades. Now, Satch has only the fond memories of both of his friends. “I've called their phones just to hear their voice messages,” he said. “I can wake up at any moment and just think about [them] because there are so many reminders in your house.”

Young said while it doesn’t get any easier when he thinks about losing his best friends, he believes he was spared for a purpose. He acknowledges that he has some work left on this earth to do, and he’s ready to help the youth around his community as his friends would have wanted.

Rocco Deserto lost his mother, Gaetana Deserto

A self-described “mama’s boy,” Rocco Deserto used to spend at least three days a week at his mother Gaetana’s house in Brooklyn to keep her company. When the coronavirus pandemic picked up steam in mid-March, Deserto begged his mom to stay home. But she refused.

She started developing COVID-19 symptoms the week of March 23. Deserto planned to call and check on his mom for 14 straight days, the period of time when symptoms would show if someone contracted the virus. Each day he called, she told him she was fine. Until one day, on March 30, she didn’t respond. “She was incoherent,” Deserto said. “She couldn’t speak and she was out of breath.”

Days later, on April 6, Gaetana Deserto succumbed to COVID-19 at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. The hardest part of the entire experience for Deserto was not being able to be by his mother’s side when she needed him most.

Jennifer Prezioso lost her grandfather Moe Albanese

Jennifer Prezioso’s grandfather Moe Albanese was the patriarch of his large Italian family. He was also a legendary butcher in Manhattan’s Little Italy and known to most patrons as “Moe the Butcher.” In the last years of his life, Prezioso was Albanese’s primary caretaker and de facto head of Albanese Meats & Poultry.

The shop had been in the family since Albanese’s parents started it in the 1920s, and he’s been a staple of the neighborhood for as long as Prezioso can remember. “That’s what he loved to do,” she said. “He loves to be there at the store, and he loved to make people feel welcomed and make it feel like he was their grandfather too.”

Albanese was at his post outside his shop until it closed on March 16 due to the spread of the coronavirus. In the following weeks, Prezioso and her mom both contracted COVID-19 but were able to fight the virus off. Albanese died from the disease on April 7, just 10 days shy of his 96th birthday. Prezioso plans to keep his legacy alive through the shop.

Sam Adewumi lost his brother, Jon Adewumi

Sam Adewumi did everything with his older brother, Jon. They went to the same grammar, middle and high schools. The two even went to neighboring colleges, both located in upstate New York. They joined friendly rival fraternities — Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. (Sam) and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. (Jon). But ultimately Jon played the role of the family’s leader.

Sam describes him as a “facilitator” and “connector” of all people. Jon encouraged Black people to discover their roots and to return to Africa, more specifically Nigeria, to do so. He led several trips back to his homeland, and started an African clothing line based in Brooklyn called Nigerian Fabrics and Fashions. He also brought this culinary culture to Brooklyn, opening a restaurant with Sam called Amarachi that featured African, Caribbean and American cuisine.

Jon’s decline to COVID-19 was sudden and rapid. He was on a ventilator for a week and at one point appeared to be improving until he ultimately died April 17 at a hospital in New Jersey. He was 57. “Jon was a gentle giant,” Sam said. “He loved people. He loved bringing people together.”

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