February 28, 2021

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As the US marks 500,000 COVID-19 deaths, one family’s anguished goodbye to their ‘rock’ captures America’s grief

4 min read

The family of Etelvina Dominguez, 78, and a mother of eight, visits her the day before she died from COVID-19. Only her husband and eldest son could be there in person, with the others joining over an iPad.

Sandy Hooper and Jasper Colt, USA TODAY

Each American who succumbs to COVID-19 leaves an average of nine close family members in mourning. With the nation close to 500,000 deaths, that puts 4.5 million spouses, children, parents, siblings and grandparents in anguish, confusion, loss. 

Some of them are grieving for Etelvina Dominguez, 78, who died Feb. 13 at a Los Angeles hospital.

Hours before her passing, son Lorenzo Jr. wept at her bedside, trying to fathom that she would soon be taken by the coronavirus. “It struck, like, the core of our family because she is the rock,” he said. 

The patient, a homemaker, immigrated from Mexico, became a U.S. citizen and raised eight kids — five daughters and three sons, who had more than a dozen children of their own.

Known to her family as “Vina,” she loved pro wrestling and tending the family garden. A die-hard Dodgers fan, Etelvina traded jabs with her Yankee-backing husband.

Etelvina Dominguez, 78, with her eight children. Dominguez died on Feb. 13, 2021, after contracting COVID-19.

Etelvina Dominguez, 78, with her eight children. Dominguez died on Feb. 13, 2021, after contracting COVID-19.
Courtesy of the Dominguez family

On Feb. 12, she lay sedated in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center. She had been there for a month, alone.

At the end of life, a few relatives are allowed a bedside goodbye visit while others watch on video. Dominguez’s husband, Lorenzo Sr., and the eldest son, Lorenzo Jr., 54, were clad in full PPE.

“I love you, mom,” the son said, crying. “We’re gonna miss you. … I love you. I love you. I love you.”

The virus can ravage and distort patients. Lorenzo Sr. did not recognize his wife of 55 years even as he held her hand. “This is Vina?” he asked in Spanish. Unable to bear it, he soon left the room.

Lorenzo Dominguez Jr., 54, and one of eight siblings, prays for his mother, Etelvina Dominguez, during his visit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, California. Dominguez and his father, Lorenzo Dominguez Sr., were the only family members allowed into the hospital. “I hear about it, I see it on the news. And it doesn’t really hit you until it hits home,” Dominguez said. “And it definitely hit home.” The rest of the Dominguez family visited Etelvina on an iPad. “She was always there for us. But that’s a mother for you. That’s my mom.”
Lorenzo Dominguez Jr., 54, and one of eight siblings, prays for his mother, Etelvina Dominguez, during his visit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, California. Dominguez and his father, Lorenzo Dominguez Sr., were the only family members allowed into the hospital. “I hear about it, I see it on the news. And it doesn’t really hit you until it hits home,” Dominguez said. “And it definitely hit home.” The rest of the Dominguez family visited Etelvina on an iPad. “She was always there for us. But that’s a mother for you. That’s my mom.”
Lorenzo Dominguez Jr., 54, and one of eight siblings, prays for his mother, Etelvina Dominguez, during his visit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, California. Dominguez and his father, Lorenzo Dominguez Sr., were the only family members allowed into the hospital. “I hear about it, I see it on the news. And it doesn’t really hit you until it hits home,” Dominguez said. “And it definitely hit home.” The rest of the Dominguez family visited Etelvina on an iPad. “She was always there for us. But that’s a mother for you. That’s my mom.”
Harrison Hill, USA TODAY

The pandemic has struck racial minorities particularly hard. Latinos die from the coronavirus 2.3 times more frequently than white non-Hispanics, according to federal data; Black people die 1.9 times more often.

Los Angeles County, where about a quarter of the population is white non-Hispanic, has been overwhelmed with more than 19,800 fatalities out of nearly 1.2 million infections. At the peak of the pandemic in January, someone in the county died every 15 minutes from the virus.

Por favor, mom, no te vayas,” Lorena, one of Etelvina’s daughters, wept via video call. “Please, mom, don’t go. What am I going to do without you?”

Etelvina died the following day.

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