CEDAR-WOOLLEY, Wash. (AP) – With dish soap, brushes and plastic water jugs in hand, four children of Carole Rae Woodmansee cleaned up a tombstone their mother shares with father Jim. Each peeling shone with engraved letters in which their mother’s name and the days of her birth and death were written: March 27, 1939 and March 27, 2020.
Carole passed away on her 81st birthday.
That morning marked the year since she died of complications from COVID-19 after she became infected during a choir practice that infected 53 people and killed two – a universal event that will become one of the most important transmission episodes in understanding the virus.
For the siblings, the gloomy anniversary provided an opportunity to close after the pandemic stopped their grief. Finally, a memorial appropriate to the mother’s footprint was held in the community.
“The hardest thing is that there was no goodbye. It was like she just disappeared, ”said Carole’s youngest child, Wendy Jensen.
After the cleansing, the siblings remember. They say their father must be happy to be back with his 46-year-old wife. They thank them for being good parents and remember how their mother said “mine” before calling their names and the names of other loved ones.
“I’ve always been‘ My Bonnie, ’” Bonnie Dawson tells her siblings. “I miss being ‘My Bonnie.’
“She missed her father for a long time,” adds the oldest sister, Linda Holeman. Their father Jim passed away in 2003.
Of the more than 550,000 people who died from the virus in the United States, Carole was among the first. Her death came just weeks after the first reported outbreak at a nursing home in Kirkland, about an hour south of Mount Vernon. Carole, who survived heart surgery and cancer, fell ill at her home. Bonnie took care of her until they called paramedics.
“You’re trying to say goodbye to your mom, and they’re telling you to come back. It was very hard, emotional … having to shout, ‘I love you, Mom,’ as they kicked her out the door, the men standing in our yard 10 feet away because they didn’t want to be near our house, ”Bonnie said.
A rehearsal of the choir in the Skagit Valley, a community choir made up mostly of retirees and unrelated to the church where they practiced, took place two weeks before Governor Jay Inslee shut down the state. The choir took precautions known at the time, such as distancing and disinfection. But someone had a virus.
“The choir called us directly and they left a voicemail. The voicemail said she was a positive person in the choir, 24 people are sick now, ”said Lea Hamner, head of infectious diseases and epidemiology for public health in Skagit County. “It was immediately apparent that we had a big problem.”
Hamner and her team went to work interviewing choir members, often on several occasions, and those they came in contact with after rehearsals, a total of 122 people. They carefully put together the evening, following things like where people were sitting and who was eating cookies or stacked chairs.
That level of approach and detail is rare among epidemic outbreak investigations, Hamner said, so when the cases in the district disappeared a few weeks later, she sat down to write a report.
“There was a lot of resistance to calling it air sickness,” Hamner said. “But we have found the environment of this disease, which can be both droplet and airborne. It was a big shift. Following the newspaper, the CDC began recognizing air transmission. “
The outbreak became known after an article from the Los Angeles Times, which prompted other researchers to study the event, further reinforcing the conclusion that the virus was traveling by air during the test.
“I think this outbreak in the choir is seen … as one event that really woke people up to the idea that the virus could spread through the air,” said Linsey Marr, a professor at Virginia Tech and an airborne transmission expert. Marr was among 239 experts who successfully lobbied the World Health Organization to change its transmission guidelines.
Another person who died from the choir was 83-year-old Nancy “Nicki” Hamilton. Originally from New York, Hamilton settled north of Seattle in the 1990s. She published a personal ad in Everett Herald and that’s how she met her husband.
“We went down to the bowling alley in Everett,” said 85-year-old Victor Hamilton. “We picked her up from there.”
Hamilton failed to hold a memorial to her. Their families are spread all over the country, and he would love to have her in New York if possible. She is watching June 21 – her birthday.
In nearby Mount Vernon, family and friends pour into the Radius Church, watching the installation of dozens of photos of Carola compiled by the brothers and sisters. Wendy also shows off a quilt her daughter made on Carole’s music camp t-shirts.
Pastor Ken Hubbard tells those present that the service is not actually a funeral, but a memorial, an opportunity to share stories about Carole.
“I’m pretty sure her prayers saved my life for a time or two,” says grandson David Woodmansee.
Loved ones remember Carole’s devotion to her family, religion and music. Others remember how she received them into her family, held piano lessons and volunteered for her church.
They sing “Blessed Insurance”, her favorite anthem. The lyrics of the song were among the last words to her children from the hospital.
After the service, the family returns to the cemetery to lay flowers. And they sing again, closing the day with a spontaneous, smiling rendition of the song “Happy Birthday”.
Later, Wendy reflects on the choir’s practice in which her mother became infected with the virus, noting the knowledge gained by him that helped improve preventive measures.
“As far as we know, it was God’s plan for her to help her with that.”
“I think my mom would be willing to give up her life to save lives,” Bonnie said. “Such a person she was.”