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More and more families grieve as the U.S. COVID-19 death toll rises

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For every one of those 800,000 lives lost, there's a family and a community grieving. Earlier this year, we connected with Sandra Ugartechea-Vaughn. Her mother, Alicia Ugartechea, died in a hospital room at the age of 67. Alicia worked in a school and ran a sewing and alteration business. But her most important title was grandmother. Sandra showed us videos on her phone of her 2-year-old smiling as Alicia held him.

SANDRA UGARTECHEA-VAUGHN: I think about when I drop him off in the morning to go to work, I'd lay him in bed with her. And the first thing she'd do is always have her arm out so that I would lay him on her arm and she'd snuggle him.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

ALICIA UGARTECHEA: (Speaking Spanish) Bye, mama.

MARTIN: Alicia was put on a ventilator in the hospital. Sandra had to watch through a glass door. The nurse told Sandra that her mom had gently squeezed her hand.

UGARTECHEA-VAUGHN: Even though she was kind of shutting down, she was still like, no, I'm here. I'm still fighting. I'm not going anywhere. But, you know, her little body couldn't take it, and I just hope that I could be just as strong as she is or she was.

MARTIN: Alicia died on New Year's Day. For Carol McIntyre, it's been hard to deal with the death toll rising so fast. Her husband, James, died from COVID-19.

CAROL MCINTYRE: I try not to think of my husband as a number because, to me, he's not a number. I mean, I'm sure he is in that count, but I just refuse to attach him to a number.

MARTIN: They had been married for 36 years. Carol talked to NPR when we marked 500,000 deaths.

MCINTYRE: It's like it just won't stop growing. And I know that there is somebody every minute, every second, every hour that's going through what I'm going through.

MARTIN: And tonight, the National Cathedral in Washington will chime its bell 800 times, remembering the 800,000 lives lost. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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