Kentucky Stories of Loss

Missed You Christmas Eve

Story AboutHarry Ananian

My husband, Harry, was one of the early ones taken by COVID on April 13, 2020, while we were just under lockdown. This is the second Christmas without him. I did feel him in the pew last night next to me. He LOVED this time of year with the promise of a renewed life, watching his grandsons revel and his family around him.

We are all still around you Harry. Just miss you being here with us, knowing that you would have had a better chance of being here if you had gotten COVID later in the pandemic. So sad.

Our Time Together

Story AboutEugene Logsdon

My husband, Eugene and I did everything together. We went to church, grocery, hunting and boating together. The love of my life. The hard thing was not being with him when Covid came. My kids and I were not allowed. It is so hard mentally. He was loved deeply and should never have been alone to pass. He loved everyone and was so helpful to everyone he came in contact with. So so sad.

Like It Just Happened Yesterday

Story AboutLaVern Terry

The kitchen light tends to blink when we all gather for the holidays. I’m not one for superstition, but my sister always points it out and says it's mom just dropping by to visit and say howdy. I think it gives us comfort knowing she’s in a better place and visiting us before we take on her role of cooking the turkey with all the fixin’s. We especially miss her lumpy mashed potatoes, her broccoli casserole filled with commodity cheese, and the one dish that was mentioned the most this year, her stuffing. It wasn’t anything special and came from a Stove-Top box or whatever Save-A-Lot sold. Maybe it was the consistency, with its crusty top and soft, gooey inside or maybe it’s just memories that were decades in the making.

Since I was a kid, Mom always made two stuffings for both sides of the turkey. The stuffing on the tail end was mixed with celery and onions while around the front had none of that. The front side stuffing was mainly for eight-year-old me as I didn’t care for onions and celery. I also thought that eating stuffing out of an animal's butt was gross. Little did I know “my stuffing” would become the running joke for the next twenty-five years as mom would tell family members about it every year like it just happened yesterday. Her other reminder was jabbing at “my stuffing” and saying “here’s my baby’s” in a low patronizing voice. Well, she’s wasn’t wrong.

As we all inevitably got older and took our shots at holiday turkeys and dishes, we always surprised Mom with our cooking and prepping approaches. One example that comes to mind is when my partner and I were at my parents cooking a turkey for Friendsgiving celebration. Now, you got to understand that my folks are more old-fashioned and until she picked up a roaster, she simply stuffed the bird, threw it in a bag, and put it in the oven. Here we were, stuffing our brined turkey with vegetables and fruits followed by a butter and herb rub. Mom was just perplexed by our approach, exclaiming, “well, that’s the first time I’ve seen that.” She also wanted to smell the herb mix we concocted and the smell liked to have knocked her backwards. Again, she wasn’t used to our fancy approach to cooking a turkey.

After we visit her at our local cemetery and check on her Christmas decorations that adorn her grave, I hope to see the kitchen lights blink to let us know she’s visiting us back. We miss her every day and especially around the holidays but we also cherish those memories and talk about them like they just happened yesterday.

Christmas Flowers

Story AboutBecky Breece-Straley

This is our first Christmas without Aunt Becky. She died on January 22, 2021 due to complications from COVID. Becky loved Christmas. If I close my eyes, I can still see her sitting at the piano playing the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as we nieces and nephews crowded around her and sang along. That song has to be the world’s longest Christmas carol, but every year she obliged us even though Christmastime was her busy season.

Aunt Becky owned a flower shop in a tiny 4-stop-light-town, but she was a modern day florist, who could accommodate any request. She once even created an intricate flower hair accessory for a customer, just like the one Cher had worn on The Sonny & Cher Show. She was truly an artist who created dazzling fresh flower arrangements that everyone loved.

Each December, her flower shop held buckets of fragrant pine boughs, long stemmed-red roses, and peppermint striped carnations to name a few. The demand was so great that she could barely keep up with the orders. So when I became a teenager, she enlisted me to be her assistant.

I was helping Aunt Becky one snowy afternoon when the greenhouse delivery truck made its stop. As the driver opened the giant door at the back of the truck, we were enveloped by the scent of thousands of flowers hitting our noses all at once. The mingling fragrances of gardenias, roses, lilies, carnations and pine branches created a heavenly scent. I was so happy when my aunt let me climb into the cool, damp truck with her while she made her selections. I had never seen so many flowers in all my life. There were hundreds and hundreds of metal buckets of colorful fresh flowers packed tightly from ceiling to floor. I will never forget it.

People still talk about my Aunt Becky’s festive Christmas arrangements, and I think that’s because she worked meticulously on each one, making it just right. To me, it was always a bit sad that those beautiful fresh flowers would only last a couple of weeks. But all these years later, I know that the feeling lives on long after the flowers fade. This year I will be sure to buy fresh flowers for my dinner table, and as I breathe in the scent of Christmas, I will think of her.

Blessing at Memorial Ceremony, 11/14/21

Story AboutMore than 10,200 Kentuckians

Dedication of Space:
Covid-19 Memorial—KY State Capitol, November 14, 2021
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Our fellow Americans in Indiana and Illinois would like to claim President Abraham Lincoln for their very own. We in the Bluegrass State know better. He was born here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and he understood the depths of death and loss-- borne of disease and division as so many of us Kentuckians do. So, it seems “fitting and proper” to borrow from his words at Gettysburg, dedicating a national cemetery, to today’s purpose of dedicating a space to those throughout our state who have died of this terrible disease, that has tragically become not only a health crisis but a political one as well. The powerful words he uttered in 1865 still speak to us now.

…In a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.

The space dedicated to those who have perished from this pandemic makes no distinction between the political party, race, religion, sexuality, gender, economic class or vaccination status of COVID-19’s victims. It is a space for all Kentuckians who died from the disease. The sacred task before us, is to heed the cry of brothers and sisters blood calling to us from the ground to be united in something other than death. The number of 10,000 means precious little unless 10,000 lives stopped short, dreams cut of, hopes unrealized compels us to get past our differences and unite for the common good of our state, our nation and our world. If we learn nothing from this pandemic than we have failed to understand Lincoln’s charge at Gettysburg, failed to honor the memory of our departed and failed to appreciate the blessing of being fortunate enough to survive. If 10,000 deaths do nothing to change the choices we make, the priorities we set, the initiatives we invest in, then shamefully, we will indeed stand guilty of the terrible sin of letting our beloved die in vain. Rather, let us resolve as our slain President, our fallen Captain, our great leader would have us do: to take on the unfinished work, advance the great task, and dedicate ourselves to the sacred cause of building a state, a nation and a world, where no one goes hungry, no one is homeless, everyone is educated, and health care is a human right.

As we dedicate this space today let us re-dedicate ourselves to the values, ideals and principals that unite us as Kentuckians, Americans, and human beings. May this be our blessing and let us say: Amen.

For Janet Loy, no one was truly a stranger

Story AboutJanet Loy (1 of 2)

This story, by Madison Carter, is part of The WhoWeLost Project's collaboration with reporting students at Western Kentucky University.
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Janet Loy was the type of woman to give a helping hand to anyone who needed it. Kim Russell, Loy’s daughter, said one of her fondest memories of her mom was a school trip they went on together where she learned just how selfless her mom was. This trip was important for both of them because it was the first time Loy was able to get off work to go on a trip with her daughter.

"I was like ‘oh my gosh,’ for the first time my mom gets to go to something, and she was so good at it,” said Russell. “They had a contest where the chaperones and teachers chewed bubble gum, and whoever could blow the biggest bubble won. I remember her winning.”

Russell said that shortly after that when the school group was hiking, they came across a bridge that seemed unsafe for them to cross. Russell said her mom saved the day. “I remember my mom taking the lead in helping every child over that bridge, and I was so proud that she was my mom,” said Russell.

In February of 2021, Loy passed away due to COVID-19. It is unknown how she contracted the virus, but after days of fighting and then being put on a ventilator her daughter made the decision to take her off.

Russell said the decision was extremely hard, but she knew her mom and what she would want and decided that it was the right thing to do. Russell said that she felt comfort knowing that her mom was now with God.

Russell said that her mom was always happy.“She did have a little bit of a temper, but it took a whole lot to make her mad,” said Russell. Her mom was a caregiver, a trait which her mom passed down to her and other members of the family.

“She never met a stranger,” said Russell. “One of the lessons I learned from her was that it doesn’t matter if you're high-class, middle-class, low-class. Everyone has a heart and a soul, and it’s not for us to judge.”

Russell said that her mom taught her that you never knew what people were going through, and the easiest thing is to be nice to everyone you meet. Her mom was a very hard worker, a single mom who always worked to provide for her and her brother.

“She retired from Rainbow Baking company,” said Russell. “She was there for 20 some years, and then she retired and started cleaning houses. She retired from that when my grandma got sick, and then she was her full-time caregiver until she passed.”

Russell said that her mom also loved to dance. Russell said that her mom once went to “The Monarchs” concert at the Louisville Zoo dressed up as one of the three musketeers with two of her friends. Russell said the group was dancing like a bunch of teenagers.

“It made me think, I wonder how she was like when she was younger, before all this life happened?” said Russell. “Then I started hearing stories, and every story I heard was always a good story. It was always a funny story.”

Russell said her mom was the kind of person that if you were feeling bad or down on yourself, she would always have something positive to say. Even in her last days her mom was positive and making jokes. Russell said that her mom had formed a close connection with the nurse taking care of her and that the nurse would report back on all the funny things her mom would say and do.

Russell said that the nurse would even spend time with Loy praying and that it was a blessing that she got the nurse she did. Russell keeps in contact with the nurse today.

Joyce Lowe, Loy’s first cousin and close friend, was another important person in her life. Lowe said that her and Loy were like best friends: they were always together and usually up to no good.

Janet Loy

Story AboutJanet Loy (2 of 2)

Lowe and Loy shared much through various phases of their lives and later in life became very close again. Lowe remembered a night from their childhood together when they were having a sleepover and watching a movie when they encouraged Janet to get up and dance for them like the actors on television.

“I was going ‘go Janet, go Janet!’ and all the other sisters were cracking up in the background,” said Lowe. “It was like once she started something and you encouraged her to do something bad like that, she would go for it.”

Lowe said that something she has struggled with since losing Lowe was the feeling of not being able to say goodbye. Lowe was in the hospital with congestive heart failure when they were able to have Loy’s celebration of life memorial.

“It’s like I never told her goodbye,” Lowe said. She most remembers Loy for her willingness to give people whatever they needed. “I think she stayed broke half the time because anybody that wanted anything she would give a handout to and didn’t require for it to be paid back,” Lowe said. Loy was a source of happiness and encouragement in her life, especially after losing her husband.

“She taught me that if you're gonna do something and you want it bad enough, no matter what anybody says, do it and don’t put it off,” Lowe said. “After my husband died, I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything and she encouraged me and always brought me laughter and joy.”

Lowe said that the loss of her best friend is fresh every day. “It’s like part of me is gone,” Lowe said. “I get to the phone getting ready to call her, and I realize there's nobody there to answer.”

Lowe said that Loy was a great Christian and that she knows Loy is happier in heaven with all her other loved ones who have passed. It is still hard for Lowe to not have Loy here with her, but she finds comfort knowing she is with God. Lowe said another important thing to know about Loy was how much she loved her grandkids. “They were her morning, noon and night,” Lowe said.

Chelsea Russell, Loy’s granddaughter-in-law, can attest to Loy’s love for her grandkids. Chelsea Russell started dating Corey Russell when she was fifteen, which meant that Loy, who lived with Corey and his mom [Kim Russell], was a grandmother figure to her as well.

Chelsea Russell said that Loy helped Kim Russell raise her son and that because he grew up without a father figure in his life, Loy had stepped up and played a significant role. “I can see now the respect for women she instilled into him because of the way he treats me and the way he raises our children to treat women,” Chelsea Russell said. “A lot of that came from her and the strong woman she was.”

Chelsea Russell said that even when Loy was in her upper sixties, she would still drive 45 minutes just to babysit the grandkids so Chelsea Russell could go to work. “Having her guidance and help and willingness to be a present woman in my boy's life was something that meant so much to me,” Chelsea Russell said.

Chelsea Russell shared how she did not grow up with a very close family, so when she married her husband, it was a foreign feeling having people be so involved. Chelsea said that it took a lot of getting used to, but once she grew in motherhood and matured, she was so grateful for all the things that Loy taught her and did for her family.

Chelsea Russell said that it is hard not having Loy here anymore and that she knows things will not be the same without her. Chelsea Russell said that she is expecting her fourth child soon and that it is hard knowing Loy will not get to be there to meet and hold them.

Kim Russell said that even in death, her mom had hope and peace. Kim Russell said that the last time she talked to her mom was on the phone before she passed away. "She squeezed the nurse's hand and said, ‘tell my daughter it’s gonna be okay.’” Kim Russell said. “I was like ‘yeah mom it's okay, you’re gonna be fine,’ and she said, ‘no Kim, everything's gonna be okay.’”

Remembering "Mr. C"

Story AboutMatt Cockrell

This story, by Michael Collins, is part of The WhoWeLost Project's collaboration with reporting students at Western Kentucky University.
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Shelby County art teacher, gold coach: legacy lives on after COVID-19 death

Matt “Mr. C” Cockrell was not a typical high school teacher. It made sense that the halls around his class in the art wing of Martha Layne Collins High School weren’t typical either.

The walls are painted with student-designed work led by Cockrell for years before he passed away from a month-long battle with COVID-19 on Sept. 19, 2021.

“He just started taking his kids out to the hall and painting,” current Martha Layne Collins principal Nate Jebsen said. “I don’t think he had permission from the previous principal. Eventually, they got the right permission and just kept expanding and expanding.”

Cockrell and his students designed murals depicting abstract shapes, landscape scenes, original characters and school insignia.

“He wanted his class to be unlike anything he had growing up,” Jebsen said. “[His classes] were very much loud, a lot of people talking, but everyone is engaged in their work and he’s just going around checking and coaching them through.”

His skills and teaching philosophy earned him the 2019 Secondary Level Art Educator of The Year Award from the Kentucky Art Education Association.

“That’s a pretty big stinking deal, but he wasn’t one to tout that unnecessarily,” Jebsen said. “He was just always pushing the limits of what could be done in class.”

Cockrell organized an art show in February 2020 at Science Hill in Shelbyville for students to showcase their art to the community.

Gracie Scrogham, a 2021 high school graduate and former student of Cockrell, said the show was a fun opportunity to connect with her classmates and that Cockrell never made art feel like work.

“A lot of the time some art teacher is just like ‘okay, trace your hand and paint it,’ but he actually had more in-depth assignments for us to do, and I really enjoyed that,” Scrogham said.

Cockrell often combined his love of National Parks into assignments, allowing students to recreate pictures he had taken while visiting parks during summers. Scrogham painted several pieces based on Cockrell's pictures over the three years he taught her.

“I have a watercolor painting on the wall of my dorm [from his class],” Scrogham said. “I put it up after I heard about him passing away because I enjoyed painting that picture so much.”

Pieces from Cockrell’s class were highlighted by the National Parks Conservation Association in June 2019 for educating students about environmental protection through art.

“I loved being able to look through all those pictures and talk to him about National Parks and stuff like that,” Scrogham said.

Mr. C wasn’t Cockrell’s only nickname; “Coach C” took over when he stepped onto the green to lead the Martha Layne Collins High School Girls Golf team.

Rylee Suttor, a 2019 high school graduate and former Lady Titan golfer, said Cockrell contributed greatly to her success through high school.

“He really boosted my spirits when I was down on the golf course or had a bad hole,” Suttor said. “Golf is so mental. You have to be in a happy mood all the time, and I think he really did that for all of his players in high school.”

Suttor said what stood out about Cockrell was his ability to stay happy even during difficult times.

“He was very happy all the time, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Coach C really down,” Suttor said. “I think even when he had COVID, he was always happy and always looking out for others.”

Suttor said Cockrell was the kind of person who would want others to use his passing as a time of personal growth and remembrance.

“I would think he would want people to reflect and have a good mood,” Suttor said. “I look at his passing not as a good thing, but we can learn from his experiences and move forward.”

Any Pie is Good Pie

Story AboutRamona Gordon

My mother’s pies were more than just dessert. In my family, they were considered the pinnacle of culinary perfection; the standard by which all other desserts would forever be measured. The secret was the crust, which was always a flaky, golden brown masterpiece -- just the right vehicle to hold the delectable fruity filling within. I have never tasted anything else that even comes close.

Mom’s talent for pie making was truly a gift from above. Her mother’s pies never quite measured up. And when Mom tried to teach me this baking skill, I proved to be sorely lacking the pie-baking gene. Part of me suspected that Mom was happy to wear this crown in our family, and for years we all looked forward to the pies we would enjoy during every visit to my parents’ house.

But this January, when my sister and I went to see Mom one week before she passed away, pie couldn’t have been further from my mind. The doctor had called us to say my mother was deteriorating; we were given permission to visit for one hour. We donned PPE since there were several COVID positive residents in her area, and we got to spend some time with her. We were grateful to be able to see her, but Alzheimer’s had robbed her of so much. Our hearts were breaking.

Mom was frantic when we arrived, and my sister and I didn’t know what to do. Our efforts to comfort her weren’t working. We tried singing show tunes to help her relax. We sang “The Wells Fargo Wagon” from The Music Man, which was her favorite musical. We prayed. We tried to reminisce. Sadly, Mom wasn’t really able to follow the conversation, her responses revealing the devastating disease. But when it was nearly time for Mom’s lunch, my sister started talking about pie.

“It is almost lunchtime, Mom. Do you think they will have pie?” my sister said, trying to fill the gaps of conversation. “What kind of pie do you like, Mom? What is your favorite?”

Mom looked up at us and with a clear voice she answered, “Any pie is good pie.”

Mom was back, even if just for a second, and we were connected again. That was the last “real” thing she said to me. I will savor the flavor of that moment for the rest of my days.

I Finally Got To Hug my Husband

Story AboutChris Reitz

I had not seen him for 8 months. The nursing home had closed their doors to visitors. They the day they called to say he was sick with COVID-19 was the same day he died. I just wanted to hold his hand, to cool his forehead with a gentle cool cloth, to whisper my undying love for this man who held my hand through the birth of our children, surgeries, and losses over our 41 years of marriage.

I finally got to hug my husband, but he was not there. It was in my imagination. Then he died. He wanted to be cremated. I went and made arrangements. I still wanted to hug him, but they were not letting people near bodies of patients who died from COVID-19. They were unsure of the transmission of the virus.

I finally got to hug my husband, but he was not there. He was in a plastic box and I believe the funeral director thought I was crazy. I hugged that box. I talked to that box. I cried over that box. I thought I might not be able to stop hugging that box. I had him back in my arms, finally. We prayed over that box and then set him free.

I finally got to hug my husband.

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