More than 1,200 Idahoans have died from COVID-19 since March. It’s the third-leading cause of death in Idaho so far this year, after heart disease and cancer. And in November, it was the state’s leading cause of death.
Boise State Public Radio spoke with people who loved one of the 1,200. Rogelio Fernandez Sr. was a pastor at El Buen Samaritano Ministerio in Burley with his wife Maria. He died on August 24. He was 74. In addition to his wife Maria, he left behind 4 children, 15 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren.
MARIA: The little children [at church] loved him; to them, he was 'Grandpa.' He was an amazing husband. He was my best friend. We were married 50 years and nine months, and part of me went with him.
My name is Maria Fernandez and I pastor a church in Burley. My husband and I started this ministry in 2011. It hasn't been easy for me — the loss of my husband — because I knew him since I was eight. He saw me growing up. And then we got married in 1969 in American Falls, Idaho, and that's where we met.
NELDA: My name is Nelda Fernandez. I'm 45-years-old, and I live in Houston, Texas.
My dad and my mom were migrant workers when we were younger. They would work hoeing beets, potato harvest, sugar beets, onions.
One of my fondest memories is when I was little, my dad used to be on the combine, and when I knew he was working close by the house, I would tell my mom, 'Can I go with my dad?' She'd be like, 'Yeah.'So I would run up to him and he would pick me up and he'd sit me down in the little chair that he had made for me. And I would sit there with him until I fell asleep.
MARIA: He was the heart and soul of the family, and he left his footprints in our hearts.
NELDA: You know, he is a man that no matter when you saw him, you always saw him with that smile on his face.
This July, I talked to my mom and she said that they weren't feeling good, so I said, 'Okay, I'll be checking up on you every day,' and she was like, 'Okay.' But then all of a sudden I got a call and said, 'I'm taking your dad to the hospital. He doesn't feel good.' I'm like, 'okay, well, keep me posted.' So then she was in the hospital in Burley, and the hospital there said that they were going to transfer him over to Twin Falls. Once they told us that they were transferring him to Twin Falls, I said, 'You know what, I'm going.'
And he was on the bottom floor, so there was a window. We could see him fully. At that point, he was still able to talk. So, we called him in and he's like, 'Hi, mija,' which in Spanish means 'my daughter.' He's like, 'Hi, mija, where's your mom?' And we didn't know how to tell him that my mom was in the hospital. So we said, 'She's asleep, she'll be back later,' because we didn't know what to say.
The hardest thing ever in my life was to have both of my parents in the hospital with Covid, not knowing if either of them were going to make it. I just wanted to get both of them and just wrap them in my arms, and tell them how much I love them.
MARIA: My husband, when he first got there, he told the nurse that he had been married 50 years, a little bit more than 50 years. And the nurse asked him, 'Would you marry your wife again?' And he said, 'Yes for another 50 years.' The hospital was going to plan a ceremony for us to renew our vows. They were just awesome people. And they said we can do it tomorrow at 11 o'clock, and he passed away that day at 10:02. We didn't get to renew our vows, and that was really sad.
It's a terrible thing to lose a loved one due to Covid. Because you can't be there to hold their hand, you can't be there to hug them, you have to see them through the window. And I wanted so much to be there. To hold his hand. And I couldn't be there because I was already out of the hospital.
And it's so sad that a lot of people don't take this serious. And they think that Covid is not real. But it is real.
To this day, many people still cannot return to church. They're hurting. They miss him. Slowly, they're starting to come back.
So, I've been able to preach to them: The will of God sometimes is not what we think it is. And that's why we always tell you, all as a congregation, to focus on God and not on us. Because one day we will be gone, and you need to be strong in your faith. And keep going.
Follow Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen for more local news.
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