By Shayla Reaves

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Imagine trying to learn while grieving someone you lost to COVID-19. As case numbers climb, that’s the reality for a Maple Grove family now sharing their story and some of the challenges that have come along with it. WCCO’s Shayla Reaves sat down with a widow and mother ahead of the first day of school.

Whitney Parker lost her husband, and father of her two young children, to COVID-19. He was 31 years old. She says the family took the guidelines seriously and followed rules for masking.

As the couple’s daughter prepares for fifth grade this fall, Parker discussed the challenges of getting back in the classroom after such loss.

“You know, every first day of school is emotional,” she said. “There were a lot of, a lot of changes last year.”

Parker said the start of this school year feels tougher than most because of one person who won’t be there to see it.

“Every night when Chance goes to bed or when it’s time for a nap, he just runs and holds it,” she said, referring to a necklace she wears. “It’s almost like he knows this is his dad.”

Leslie Parker died from COVID-19 on May 11, 2020, just 11 days before their son’s first birthday and months before any vaccines were authorized by the FDA.

Daughter Zuri Parker was in 4th grade.

“The day that he passed they told me and I cried a little bit, but I didn’t really cry that much because I was thinking what would happen if he stayed,” Zuri Parker said. “Wou have to go through it because he’s never coming back. Just crying won’t bring him back, crying won’t nurse him back to health. So you have to make the most of your life because he wanted us to be happy.”

She and her mother and little brother are all adjusting to life without him.

“Last year, a couple of days she would miss school because she would just wake up and be exhausted because she didn’t sleep, she couldn’t sleep,” Whitney Parker said. “By the time she went to sleep, it would be time for school and I would have to call her off.”

The elementary school student decided to switch schools.

“She did say, ‘I don’t want to go back.’ And I said, ‘Why? They’ve been so supportive, sending cards and flowers.’ And she said, ‘I don’t want all my friends to keep asking me what happened. I don’t want everyone to keep asking me about my dad. I just want to start fresh,” Whitney Parker said. “With this new environment she can kind of write her own story as opposed to it already being written. … I couldn’t imagine being 9 and going through what she’s going through, because it’s not just the loss of her father.”

Zuri Parker says what she’s most excited for this new school year is her forthcoming birthday, which will be on a school day, allowing her to spend time with her friends.

Whitney Parker says there are a lot of triggers for grief, especially with the pandemic ongoing.

“I am hoping that her school and I can work together to find a safe space for her, so when she has those moments, instead of the first thing coming to her mind is ‘Let me call my mom,’ lets come up with something so we can work through it first, and if its still not working, then let’s call Mommy,” Whitney Parker said.

Both mother and daughter are in therapy. Leslie Parker was a psychologist.

Click here for a GoFundMe benefitting the family.

Shayla Reaves