Ahead of a typically joyful holiday season with her two young kids, Lindsay Wootton, 34, is dreading her first Thanksgiving and Christmas without her mother.
Wootton's mom and grandfather died of COVID-19 last month at a hospital in Orem, Utah.
Wootton's 56-year-old mother, Tracy Larsen, was a paraprofessional who worked with special needs children. She "dedicated everything she did to helping others," all while keeping her good spirits, Wootton said in an interview with All Things Considered.
"My mom was the life of the party," she said.
Minutes after Wootton was told that her mother wouldn't survive COVID-19, she learned that her 80-year-old grandpa, Bert Porter, also wouldn't make it. Porter died within the hour.
Porter, Larsen's father, was a "sweet, sweet man" and "the hardest worker of anyone I ever met," Wootton said.
"I wish, I wish that people can look into their heart and listen to what's being asked," she said. "Wear masks, limit your gatherings. Let's limit it to preserve our families."
Utah's hospitalizations for the coronavirus have quadrupled in the last two months, according to the state's department of health. The state is averaging more than 3,100 new positive test results each day.
Public health officials say hospital capacity across the state is at a breaking point. Last week, Gov. Gary Herbert issued new public health restrictions to help stem the surge in cases and address the strain on the health care system.
Wootton's father, Chad Larsen, also contracted COVID-19 after he was initially hospitalized for a shingles outbreak in his ear canal. She's not sure how her mom and dad were infected with the coronavirus, but she suspects they could have been exposed while he was being treated on the floor where the hospital kept COVID-19 patients.
"We have wondered, because my mom spent some time with him there at the hospital, if maybe they were both infected there," she said.
Her dad continues to fight the lingering effects of the disease.
"It's been a struggle both physically and emotionally, of course," Wootton said. "My mom was his everything."
Before her mother's death, her parents celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary in the hospital. Wootton and her sister managed to help them make it special.
"My sister and I both knew they weren't able to give each other special gifts this year and that was something they always treasured, is giving each other a memorable gift," she said.
As a gift to give from her mom to her dad, Wootton had a photo of her parents — taken back when they were dating — enlarged and framed.
"I picked a really special photo frame that said, 'I love you,' and I got a card. It was the last time my mom ever got to write a love note to my dad. Little did we know that, four days later, my mom would pass away."
Gustavo Contreras, Lauren Hodges and Christopher Intagliata produced this interview for broadcast.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
More than a quarter-million people in the U.S. have now died of COVID-19, each one someone's family member. We're going to remember two of those 250,000 people now, a father and daughter who both died of the disease last month in Utah. Bert Porter was 80 years old. Tracy Larsen, his daughter, was 56. Tracy's adult daughter, Lindsay Wootton, is with us now from Logan, Utah.
Thank you for being here, and I'm sorry for your loss.
LINDSAY WOOTTON: Thank you for having me and for the condolences.
SHAPIRO: Would you begin by telling us about your mother and what she was like?
WOOTTON: I would love to. My mom was the life of the party.
WOOTTON: She was bouncy and energetic and loving. And my mom - for 28 years, she was a paraprofessional for the special-needs children. She dedicated everything that she did to helping others.
SHAPIRO: And your grandfather, her father, Bert?
WOOTTON: My grandpa was such a sweet, sweet man. He was the hardest worker of anyone I've ever met. Up until the day he was put in the hospital, he was outside building new things or welding something. My grandpa was very much a hands-on handyman.
SHAPIRO: Your father was also hospitalized with the disease and spent a month and a half in the same hospital as your mother. And I understand they celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary there in the hospital. Will you tell us about that?
WOOTTON: My dad had just been released on October 1 from the hospital. And my mom, unfortunately, was still in the hospital. That morning, my mom's nurse and I were able to wash her hair and get it combed and braided. And my sister went over and helped my dad get ready, and they made the hour drive from their home up to the hospital. And my sister and I both knew that my mom and dad weren't able to give each other special gifts this year. And that was something that they had always treasured, is giving each other a memorable gift. I went and bought this beautiful wood flower arrangement because the ICUs are really sticklers about what can be brought in. That was my dad's gift to my mom. And for my mom to give to my dad, I got into to the store. I got an old photo of them dating blown up and printed, and I picked a really special photo frame that said, love you. And I got a card.
WOOTTON: And it was the last time that my mom ever got to write a love note to my dad. And little did we know that four days later, my mom would pass away.
SHAPIRO: The fact that they could spend that time together and that you could help make that happen means so much, especially when this disease has prevented so many people from seeing their loved ones in the final days.
WOOTTON: Absolutely. Absolutely.
SHAPIRO: And how is your father doing now?
WOOTTON: The very best that he can. It's been a struggle, both physically and emotionally, of course. My mom was his everything.
SHAPIRO: Do you know how they contracted the virus?
WOOTTON: Unfortunately, we don't have a solid answer. We have thoughts. My dad wasn't initially hospitalized due to COVID. He had the shingles virus in his ear canal. When he was admitted to the hospital, he was put on the infectious disease floor or what the hospital has deemed the COVID floor. We have wondered, because my mom spent some time with him there at the hospital, if maybe they were both infected there on the sixth floor at the hospital.
SHAPIRO: So how are you thinking about this approaching holiday season - Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's - when people are likely to gather despite the CDC telling them not to, and you're going to be going through these holidays without your loved ones for the first time?
WOOTTON: I've never dreaded a holiday approaching. I have two small kids at home, and holidays always brought such magic - to see the light in their eyes. I'm dreading the holidays this year. I'm dreading experiencing my first Thanksgiving without my mom, my first Christmas without my mom. So I wish that people can look into their heart and listen to what's being asked. Wear masks. Limit your gatherings. Let's limit it to preserve our families.
SHAPIRO: Lindsay Wootton, thank you for remembering your mother, Tracy Larsen, and your grandfather, Bert Porter, with us.
WOOTTON: It's been an absolute honor. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.