A birthday celebration. A special game of cards. A basketball game. A bucket filled with seashells. These are the memories held by the children of COVID-19 victims.
Across the country, some children are experiencing the death of a parent who was the center of their lives. Many of them are kids, teenagers and young adults, who were still finding their way in the world. Now, they’re forced to adapt to a world without them.
While the full scope of parental death due to coronavirus is not yet understood, data is starting to emerge. A recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates 37,300 to 43,000 children under the age of 18 have lost a parent to COVID-19.
The surviving children of Craig Drezek, Andrew Phillips, John Schoffstall and Emmy Falta shared their memories with 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley asand offered advice to a generation of kids who will have lost a parent to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Colin Phillips, 21, remembered his father hatching a plan to surprise his older sister for her 21st birthday. They would journey out together to her college campus at Dartmouth. “Let’s get away, have a good time and be there for your sister,” Colin said in recalling the memory. “It ended up being a fantastic weekend that I’ll never forget.”
Grace Phillips, 23, was surprised to see her father and then-teenage brother arrive at a celebratory dinner and jump right into the festivities, taking seats at the center of the table with Grace’s friends. After dinner, they headed to a fraternity to continue the celebration. “We just had such a blast,” she said.
Grace says her father had a young spirit and could strike up a conversation with just about anyone. “He always said if you knew a little bit about everything, then you could talk to anybody that you met in your life,” she said. “That was something I definitely carried with me. I try to connect with people everywhere.”
Asked what advice he would give children who lost a parent to the coronavirus, Colin Phillips suggested that they always remember their parent is watching over them. “It’s not a goodbye. It’s a see you later,” he explained. “They’re with you. You have signs of it. You can feel it. Their physical presence might be gone but you’re always going to have that person watching out for you.”
Andrew Phillips is survived by his daughter Grace, his sons Colin, Aidan, 17, Andrew, 16, and wife Trish.
John Schoffstall’s wife, Jennifer, remembered his chivalry and his dedication to helping others. “He cared about everybody. He wanted to make sure everybody was safe. He put everybody first,” she said.
John carried on a family legacy as a volunteer firefighter. “His dad was the volunteer chief in the town that he grew up in his whole life,” Jennifer said. So, when John came of age, he joined the fire service as soon as he could.
Jaidyn Schoffstall, 14, says while she will miss seeing her dad in the stands at her volleyball games, she has to “keep on living.” “It’s my time to live and keep living. And life’s too short.” she told 60 Minutes.
When asked what advice he’d give to other young people who’ve also lost a parent to the coronavirus, Jake Schoffstall, 17, shared a similar outlook. “I’ve got many more years on this great planet. And most kids do,” he said. “They [have] got to keep living like every day’s their last.”
John Schoffstall is survived by his son Jake, daughter Jaidyn, and wife Jennifer.
Emerick Falta, 21, remembered his mother Emmy as his best friend. She was an aide at the Trinity School in New Rochelle, New York, and was remembered by Emerick as having shared a connection with every child she met. “That’s what made her special,” he said. “She was like that with every single person.”
After losing his mother to COVID-19, Emerick was left an orphan. His father had died when he was younger. But Emerick’s support network—his girlfriend, her family, and his teachers—leave him with hope for a brighter future. “There will be better days, and they will help me get there,” he said. “I’m more than thankful for them.”
Craig Drezek met his wife Jamie on the basketball court, when the two were playing on men’s and women’s teams for the same college. She was dating somebody else at the time, but Craig was not deterred. “He used to follow me around and bring me flowers,” she said.
On his 21st birthday, Craig skipped the revelry of a local bar or party and headed to the basketball court, to see his future wife play in a game. “I was actually on the foul line and he walked in,” she said. “I completely missed. Like, I hit nothing but backboard.” Less than a year later, the couple was engaged.
Craig and Jamie’s five children, Alex, 21, Sydnie, 19, Kiley, 17, Caden, 15, and Colbie, 12, shared memories of their father with Scott Pelley.
Alex Drezek remembered her father’s kindness to her on a shopping trip. Sydnie Drezek remembered a surprise visit at her first college basketball game. Kiley Drezek remembered the spiral seashells they’d collect. Caden Drezek remembered games of cards. Colbie remembered Sunday mornings spent with him while the rest of the family stayed in bed.
Wife Jamie Drezek said she feels grateful to have many people in her life to share stories with. “To be able to share all of our different stories and our different takes on stories…. having all of us together. It’s going to help keep my husband alive and with us.” And when she looks at her children, she sees Craig. “I see a lot of him in each of them,” she said. “They like to hear they’re like their dad.”
CHILDREN, PARENTS AND THE GRIEVING PROCESS
Dr. Cynthia Moore, a clinical psychologist and Associate Director of the Parenting at a Challenging Time program at Massachusetts General Hospital, said a surviving parent should try to prioritize self-care. “Take care of yourself as a parent and find support for yourself,” she said.
Dr. Moore said parents can also help their children through the grieving process. “Find ways whenever possible to remember the parent together,” she said. “Sometimes that’s through sharing memories, sometimes that’s through looking at pictures together, or finding a memento that could be a meaningful reminder of the parent. And continue to remind the child that they were loved by the [deceased] parent.”
Children are known to hesitate when expressing emotions and feelings related to death, out of fear of upsetting or angering the person they’re speaking to.
Dr. David Schonfeld, Director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, says that when appropriate, surviving parents, adults, teachers and peers should invite children to express their feelings and emotions related to death. “If you help them express their feelings, and the reaction they get from adults and peers is not what they’re most worried about, then they start to realize other people feel this way,” he said. “They don’t feel as abnormal or isolated.”
For more resources related to parenting and Covid-19, visit the website for the Marjorie E. Korff Parenting at a Challenging Time Program: https://www.mghpact.org/covid-19-resources-for-parents
The videos above were originally published on January 31, 2021.