In Rev. Barb Tesorero’s sermon on Sunday, she ended with “be the hope.” Her message resonated with me after she likened events of the past two years—and especially last week—as being in a “wilderness place.” It is our duty as Christians to make a difference and “participate in affirming God’s promise.” I saw a story on NBC’s Today Show about a woman who stepped in to help four siblings trying to negotiate life after their single mom passed away from Covid. NBC provided a written story about this issue. However, the story of Ms. Janie Yoshida and how she helped the Dawkins family is only briefly mentioned. To view the full story, by journalist Cynthia McFadden, click on the link at the end of this article. We can all find a way—large or small—to reach out and help our local or global community. As Rev. Tesorero stated “the living Christ lives through you.”
The “what ifs” creep into Shelia Twyman’s mind when her grandchildren wake at night, crying. The kids lost their mother, Shanna Twyman, to Covid-19 in September. Their father died of liver failure 2 ½ years ago. As Twyman soothes her grandkids back to sleep, she wonders: What else might they have lost if their McAlester, Oklahoma, community hadn’t stepped in to help? Twyman took in Shanna’s two youngest children after she died. Another family welcomed Shanna’s oldest son, Avion, 18, into their home. With her 8-year-old granddaughter, Cajhmonét, and 6-year-old grandson, Cletis Jr., suddenly under her care, Twyman was forced to retire. That left her short on finances. A fundraiser for the family kept them afloat, she said, as did a constant stream of neighbors who dropped off food. Then, weeks after her daughter’s death, Twyman learned she and her grandchildren were entitled to up to $9,000 in Covid-related assistance for funeral expenses. She didn’t find out about the federal reimbursement from an agency or government official. A mother from Avion’s football team informed her about it. “We shouldn’t have had to do the GoFundMe,” she said of the donations she and her grandkids received before discovering the funeral reimbursement, which comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “They should have been right there after my daughter died.”
Two years into the pandemic, the number of children who have lost a parent or other in-home caregiver to Covid across the United States is estimated to exceed 200,000, and families and child advocates say identifying and assisting these kids should be a priority. “In my mind, it is a national health emergency,” said Charles Nelson, a professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School who was among the first researchers to study caregiver deaths to Covid. “If a child has lost a parent, someone needs to show up at that doorstep right away — and I mean right away.” With no standardized system to capture which children have lost mothers, fathers and other important adults in their lives, Nelson added, kids can easily fly under the radar.
When Cindy Dawkins, 50, a single mother in Boynton Beach, Florida, died of Covid in August, leaving behind four children, no one from the hospital or the city called, her kids said. They wouldn’t have known what to do if it weren’t for a family friend. “I don’t think anyone’s going to turn down getting help,” Dawkins’ oldest child, Jenny Burrows, 24, said. “You’re not talking about adults that are losing someone. You’re talking about kids who don’t know how to navigate through the world, yet they lost the person, or one of the people, that are meant to help them.”
The Covid funeral assistance program is not exclusively for grieving children. It has reached a wide swath of people who have lost family members to Covid: FEMA told NBC News it has given out over $1.8 billion in reimbursement for funeral expenses to more than 285,000 people and said it is working to raise awareness about the benefit, particularly in underserved communities. That’s crucial, according to a bipartisan coalition known as the Covid Collaborative, which has argued that relatives, friends or other people who abruptly become caregivers often have no idea that this and other offerings exist. In the meantime, a website by the Covid Collaborative that debuted Monday provides a centralized list of resources for children who have lost parents or caregivers to Covid. The site, hiddenpain.us, shows how to apply for Social Security survivor benefits and tools for emergency rental assistance. There are also links to grief camps, family bereavement programs and other grief services.
In Oklahoma, Twyman said she would have benefited from such a list all in one place after the death of her daughter, a hair stylist getting certified to become an educator for kids with disabilities. She said she still feels grateful for the generosity of friends and strangers. “We had the community that helped,” she said. Without them, she added, “I can see these kids going through this and not knowing where their next set of clothes is coming from, their next meal is coming from, if they’re going to have a roof over their head.”
Link to Cynthia McFadden story: