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AP PHOTOS: With 4 million COVID deaths, many children left behind

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By NICOLE WINFIELD

Some will never remember the parents they lost because they were too young when COVID-19 hit. Others try to keep the memory alive by doing what they did together: making pancakes or playing the guitar. Others still cling to what’s left, a pillow or a photo, as they adjust to life with aunts, uncles and siblings stepping in to fill the void.

The coronavirus pandemic has left behind parents, friends and spouses – but also young children who now navigate life as orphans or with one parent, who also mourn the loss.

It’s a trauma that’s playing out in big cities and small towns around the world, from the state of Assam in northeast India to New Jersey and points in between.

And even as vaccination rates increase, the losses and generational impact show no signs of slowing down in many places where the virus and its variants continue to kill. As the official death toll from COVID-19 reached its latest dark milestone this week, South Korea reported its biggest single-day jump in infections and the pandemic to date.

Victoria Elizabeth Soto did not notice the milestone. She was born three months ago after her mother, Elisabeth Soto, visited Lomas de Zamora hospital in Argentina, eight months pregnant and suffering from symptoms of COVID-19.

Soto, 38, had tried to get pregnant for three years and gave birth to Victoria on April 13. The mother died six days later from complications from the virus. Victoria was not infected.

His father, Diego Roman, says he is slowly facing loss, but fears for his little girl, who will one day learn that she does not have a mother.

“I want her to learn to say ‘mum’ by showing her a picture of her,” Roman said. “I want her to know that her mother gave her life for her. Her dream was to be a mom, and she was.

Only 8-year-old Tshimologo Bonolo lost her father to COVID-19 in July 2020 and spent the year adjusting to life in Soweto, South Africa, without him.

The hardest part was her new daily routine: Bonolo’s father, Manaila Mothapo, drove her to school every day, and now she has to take public transport.

“I cooked, played and read books with my dad,” Bonolo said. “What I miss the most is jumping on my daddy’s stomach.”

In north-west London, Niva Thakrar, 13, mows the grass and washes the family car – things her father used to do. To remember him, she takes the same walks and watches the movies they watched together before he died in March after being hospitalized for two months.

“I always try to do what we used to do, but it’s not the same thing anymore,” Thakrar said.

Jeshmi Narzary lost both parents in two weeks in May in Kokrajhar, Assam state, northeast India.

The 10-year-old continued to live with an aunt and two cousins, but was only able to move in after suffering 14 days of quarantine herself during the spring outbreak in India that made the country second behind the United States for the number of confirmed cases.

Narzary did not deal with the death of his parents. But she is scrupulous about wearing face masks and washing her hands, especially before eating. She does it, she said, because she knows “the coronavirus is a disease that kills humans.”

Kehity Collantes, 6, also knows what the virus can do. He killed his mother, a hospital worker in Santiago, Chile, and now she has to make pancakes on her own.

It also means this: “My daddy is now my mom too,” she said.

Siblings Zavion and Jazzmyn Guzman lost both parents to COVID-19, and their older sisters are now caring for them. Their mother, Lunisol Guzman, adopted them when they were babies, but died last year with her partner at the start of the violent first wave of the pandemic in the northeastern United States.

Katherine and Jennifer Guzman immediately applied for guardianship of the children – Zavion is 5 and Jazzymn 3 – and are raising them in Belleville, New Jersey.

“I lost my mother, but now I’m a mother figure,” said Jennifer Guzman, 29.

The losses of the Naval family in Quezon City, Philippines, are mounting. After the death of Arthur Navales, 38, on April 2, the family was rejected by the community.

His widow, Analyn B. Navales, worries that she will not be able to afford the new home they plan to move into because her salary alone will not be enough to cover them. Another question is whether she can afford the children’s taekwondo lessons.

Kian Navales, 10, who also had the virus, misses going out to eat noodles with his father. He is clutching one of the pillows his mother made for him and his sister with a picture of their father on one side.

“Our house has become calm and sad. We haven’t laughed much since daddy left, ”said Yael, Kian’s 12-year-old sister.

Maggie Catalano, 13, brings the memory of her father to life through music.

A musician himself, Brian Catalano taught Maggie some guitar chords before he got sick. He gave her his own acoustic guitar for Christmas on December 26, the day he returned from hospital after a nine-day stay.

Still positive and weak, he remained quarantined in a bedroom but could hear Maggie playing through the walls of their home in Riverside County, California.

“He texted me and said, ‘You looked good, honey,'” Maggie recalls.

The family believed he had conquered the disease – but four days later he died alone at home while they were away.

Devastated, Maggie turned to songwriting and performed one she composed at her funeral in May.

“I wish he could see me play now,” she said. “I wish he could see how much I have improved.”

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AP photographers Mary Altaffer in Belleville, New Jersey; Jerome Delay in Soweto, South Africa; Aaron Favila in Quezon City, Philippines; Esteban Felix in Santiago, Chile; Jae C. Hong in Riverside County, California; Anupan Nath in Kokrajhar, India; Natacha Pisarenko in Lomas de Zamora, Argentina; and Thanassis Stavrakis in London contributed.


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