‘It’s really heartbreaking’: Families remember those who died from COVID-19 at Charlotte vigil

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, things are starting to open back up and get back to normal, but not everyone can move forward after losing friends and family to the virus.

“I can’t pick up the phone and call them. I’m never going to see them,” Shirley Belton said.

Balloons and photos at First Ward Park on Friday night honored loved ones taken by COVID-19. Channel 9′s Genevieve Curtis spoke to families who want to make sure their loved ones aren’t forgotten.

“Some people are left picking up the pieces after losing very important members of their households,” Shaleiah Sanders said.

Shaleiah wants to remember her grandmother, Pearl Sanders, who died of the virus in January at her nursing home, White Oak Manor. She was diagnosed on Jan. 4 and died just five days later.

Shaleiah said the vigil is also a push for nursing home transparency because her family still has so many questions. They want to know how her grandmother was exposed to the virus.

“You say that you were following the property protocol wearing the PPE,” she said.

Even though nursing home residents were among the first in the state to get vaccinated, it came just a few days too late for Pearl.

“It’s crazy. She was supposed to get the vaccine on January the 4th -- the day she was diagnosed with COVID,” Shaleiah said. “It’s like she made it that far for her to pass away in January.”

Belton said this past year, she lost two family members and many friends. She, too, was recently hospitalized with COVID-19 for 28 days.

“I’ve lost people back to back within weeks of each other. It’s really heartbreaking,” Belton said.

As the world starts to open up again, it may feel like people are moving on from the pandemic. But for those missing a loved one, they’re struggling with how to move on when their whole world has changed.

“The world is trying to get back to the new normal, and it’s like, ‘How do we get back to our new normal without the matriarch of our family?’” Belton said.

In all, 23 people died in the outbreak that killed Pearl at White Oak Manor, and Shaleiah said she’s not done fighting for nursing home transparency. She started a petition on change.org. She wants the governor to reverse the liability shield laws for health care facilities.