CHICAGO (Reuters) -On Dec. 1, 2020, at 4:40 pm, Roseland Community Hospital nurse Alma Abad entered the isolation room of COVID-19 patient Florence Bolton with an iPad donated to the hospital to allow the sick to communicate with their families.
Florence lay on her intensive care bed, covered in blankets. Her grandchildren, Sammie Michael Dent, Jr., and Tamara Tucker, watched as the nurse took off their grandmother’s ventilator and brought the tablet near to her face.
“Hello, Grandma!” they said to Florence, who was unresponsive. “It’s ok, Grandma, we love you.”
Less than 24 hours later, Florence Bolton, 86, was pronounced dead. So beloved was she in her local community that a church of which she had been a member from 1974 until it closed last year was reopened for her funeral. At her eulogy, the former pastor wept.
On Dec. 2, the day Florence passed away, 2,811 people died of probable COVID-19 complications in the United States, according to a Reuters tally.
On Monday, the national death toll passed 300,000 people, while globally deaths have reached an estimated 1.5 million.
Every one of those numbers was a person, with a family, a home, a story.
Florence Bolton had been married for over 60 years to Raymond Dewitt Bolton Sr. They lived together in the Roseland community on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois.
They were the first African-American couple to join the previously all-white Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1974. Florence taught Special Education in the Chicago Board of Education School district for over 35 years, all while being diagnosed as legally blind.
Physically active for most of her life, she enjoyed running 5ks when younger and continued to walk with her neighbor, Robert Morris, until around 2015, when he had a hip replacement. She loved aerobics, line dancing, the farmers’ market and large family gatherings. To her family and friends, she was the matriarch that had suffered through hard times in the South Side but always had time to lend an ear or a hand.
The first sign that something was not right was when grandson Sammie noticed Grandma not looking well and asked if she wanted to take an aspirin.
She replied, “I want to go to the hospital, I have a pain in the back of my head and a headache.” Sammie drove her to the hospital where, he said, they ran tests, including for the coronavirus, which came out negative. She had severe dehydration, they said, and released her.
Through November, Florence continued to feel unwell. On Nov. 27 Sammie called an ambulance and she was transported to Roseland Community, where she tested positive for the coronavirus.
On Dec. 9, Florence Bolton’s funeral was held.
State regulations to stop the spread of the coronavirus meant the viewing and attendance were sparse. In normal times, there would have been people in lines out the doors waiting to pay their respects.
“My phone has been ringing off the hook with people expressing their condolences,” said Sammie. A small group of close family and friends were present at the graveside as she was laid to rest.
The Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, which had been closed since July 2019 following years of economic troubles and a dwindling congregation, was reopened again just for Florence’s funeral.
Pastor Steve Warren, who grew up on the South Side, was formerly the pastor at Zion Lutheran, and was close to the Boltons, shed tears during his sermon.
“Last night, I had to dress the altar for the last time; this congregation ceased to exist in July,” he said.
“It came to my mind that I’m doing it for the woman and the couple that were the very first Black family in this congregation. And the first is now the last.”
(Reporting by Shannon Stapleton, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)