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Illinois Woman Who Lost Father To COVID-19 Pleads With People To Stay Home For The Holidays

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Norm Sack and daughter Katie Colt smiling at the top of the Empire State Building during a family trip to New York City, 2005. (Courtesy)

Norm Sack and daughter Katie Colt smiling at the top of the Empire State Building during a family trip to New York City, 2005. (Courtesy)

As the pandemic rages on, Illinois continues to be one of the states hit hardest by COVID-19 in the Midwest with more than 730,000 confirmed positive cases. 

But the virus isn’t just about numbers. It’s about people — like Norm Sack of Wilmette, Illinois. 

Sack died in April from COVID-19. He was 75 years old.

It’s now December, and his daughter Katie Colt has had some time to sit with that loss. She wrote a deeply personal story about her dad in a recent article for HuffPost titled, “I Lost My Dad To COVID-19. I’m Begging You, Please Stay Home This Holiday Season.”

For the first few months after her father’s death, Colt says she was in “a really dark place” emotionally because the conditions surrounding his death were “so surreal.”

“The fact that I wasn’t able to be with him when he died, you know, it removed the reality from the situation,” she says. “And as time went on and things sunk in about the fact that I really wouldn’t be seeing him again, the acceptance started to come. But also in that I’ve struggled with being angry about the situation and the circumstances in which we lost him.” 

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One of the things Colt has struggled with the most is grappling with the idea that a family gathering could have gotten her father sick — and even though there’s no way to know for sure, she could have been the one who infected him. 

In late February, Colt and her mother brought her father home from his memory care facility for a family dinner. She says she and her mother had cold-like symptoms, which they chalked up to it being cold season in Chicago.

“But because I had had a lingering cough, I didn’t want to kiss him, so I said goodbye, kind of gave him a side hug and that was that,” she says. “And then a week later, [Gov. J.B. Pritzker] here in Illinois announced that the state would be headed into lockdown.”

Not knowing whether she infected her father still haunts her, Colt says, and if she knew what she knows about the coronavirus now, she would not have seen her father that night. 

“We have the opportunity to make different choices and had I had any idea that I had been sick with something that could’ve potentially caused my own father’s death, I would have stayed away,” she says. “I would have done everything different, and I don’t have that opportunity now.”

After seeing images of people crowding airports over Thanksgiving, Colt is pleading with people to listen to warnings about the virus. But she knows many people will likely travel anyway because of the human tendency to dissociate from difficult things in our lives, Colt says. 

“They think that if they don’t feel sick, nothing will happen to them,” she says. “If we stay home, if we do what we have to do, then we can actually save lives. And I don’t want more people to have to suffer from something that can be prevented against.”

In coping with her loss, Colt wants people to remember her dad as someone who was “relentlessly upbeat” throughout his life, even as his dementia worsened. 

“He was the person who had a smile for everyone,” she says.

He loved music, especially The Beatles, and imparted that passion onto his daughter. 

“He knew all the words to every single Beatles song that there ever was, and eventually I learned them, too, and we’d harmonize in the car together,” she says. “And he’d tap his ring on the window to the beat.”


Marcelle Hutchins produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Chris Bentley and Bruce Gellerman. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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