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WFAA reporter shares pain of losing mom to COVID-19 on Thanksgiving Day

“In a million years, I never expected my mother who is a two-time breast cancer survivor and has overcome so much to die of COVID,” said WFAA’s Rebecca Lopez.

ARLINGTON, Texas — Amalia Gonzales loved to dance.

Her daughter knew that about her, but she didn’t know just how many people had video of Amalia cutting a rug.

As friends and family posted those videos to social media in the hours after Amalia’s sudden death, each image broke her daughter’s heart.

Now that the hours have turned into days, those videos are helping her heal.

“Just this past Halloween she was dressed up as a Crayon dancing!” her daughter said.

Amalia’s daughter is WFAA reporter Rebecca Lopez.

Because she makes a living sharing people’s stories, Rebecca knew she had to share her mother’s story – as painful as it is.

“I wanted to do this because every day I ask people who’ve lost loved ones to COVID to speak up so that we can be more aware of what this virus is doing,” she said. “ And that’s why I felt it was important to tell my mom’s story.”

Rebecca grew up in Odessa.

Her mother still lived there.

Amalia would have turned 74 in March, but she was still teaching at an elementary school.

The two-time breast cancer survivor loved to travel, loved Texas, and dearly loved family and friends.

“My mom social distanced. She wore a mask and sometimes she wore gloves. She hand-sanitized. She did everything right except at the very end,” Rebecca said. “She took her mask off at a gathering with friends. Someone was asymptomatic COVID positive, and she died seven days later.”

When Amalia first started feeling symptoms, she told Rebecca it was probably just allergies.

But after covering the pandemic for nine months, Rebecca worried it was more. She urged her mother to get a COVID-19 test, but Rebecca said she had trouble finding a place to get tested.

Rebecca said Amalia did have a virtual visit with a doctor who prescribed medication, but they didn’t believe she was sick enough to need hospitalization.

On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, Rebecca and her son, Jacob, talked with Amalia on the phone.

“She sounded fine,” said Jacob Lopez, a 19-year-old college freshman.

That phone call was at 4 p.m.

By 4:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Day, Amalia had stopped breathing.

Credit: Rebecca Lopez
Amalia Gonzales loved to dance.

Rebecca’s sister tried desperately to resuscitate her at their Odessa home.

“She was like, I’m going to call the ambulance. I’m going to call the ambulance,” Rebecca said of her sister. “And Mom said, ‘No, hold me.’ She knew she was dying at that point.”

Paramedics rushed her to a hospital where they revived her

“But the virus had done too much damage and she couldn’t survive,” Rebecca said. “She died at the hospital. On Thanksgiving morning. And it was my parents' 50th wedding anniversary.”

Rebecca’s father, Santos Gonzales, used to call Amalia ‘mi vida,’ Spanish for 'my life.'

“He’s really lost right now,” Rebecca said.

Rebecca and Jacob sat together outside their Arlington home five days after their loss and talked about their pain because they want to protect other families.

“I just urge people, if there’s anything you hear from us today by telling our story - as difficult as it is -  just protect yourself and protect others,” Rebecca said.

Jacob appealed to young people his age.

“250,000 plus people have died. That’s 250,000 plus families suffering and ours is one included,” he said. “I see my friends going out to clubs, bars and whatnot, parties. It seems kind of selfish.”

“Make a sacrifice now for the long-term health of your family or your friend’s family,” he said.

Old videos and photos are bringing more comfort than pain now, but the grief hasn’t gone away.

"In a million years, I never expected my mother, who is a two-time breast cancer survivor and has overcome so much, to die of COVID,” Rebecca said.

She’s now worried about her father and her sister, who are both sick and awaiting their COVID-19 test results.

“That’s the really hard part is that you can’t even hug your family,” Rebecca said through tears. “You hear everybody say that, but I can’t hug my sister. I can’t hug my dad. I can’t comfort them right now. We can’t comfort each other."

"People have talked about their family members dying alone. Now I understand that." 


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