She loved kids, and kids loved her, but COVID-19 ended her teaching dreams
A father and daughter die weeks apart. Victims’ families are often left to agonize over the mystery of how they contracted the virus.
For the families of COVID-19 victims, the heartbreak of losing a loved one is often compounded by the pain of not knowing how they contracted the virus.
The Alonzo family of Gage Park is finding it doubly difficult.
On the day before she was hospitalized, Raquel Alonzo worked from home as usual, serving as a translator for online parent-teacher conferences at the charter school where she taught.
Alonzo, 34, had felt tired the previous few days and had started coughing that morning, but her father Rafael, 72, had been suffering similar symptoms, and the family just thought she was coming down with a cold.
It made no sense to the Alonzos that it could be anything more serious because they had been taking extreme precautions against the coronavirus for months, rarely venturing outside their multigenerational family household.
The next day was Thanksgiving, and Alonzo felt worse. By early evening, it was apparent she was having trouble breathing, her discolored fingernails a sign she wasn’t getting enough oxygen.
Her sister Alma told her she was calling 911. Even then, Alonzo resisted, worried she would miss a final exam in one of the courses she was taking to finish up her teaching degree at National Louis University.
It wasn’t until her sister promised to contact her instructor that Alonzo relented.
Medical personnel at Holy Cross Hospital didn’t even wait for the test to come back to tell the family she had COVID. The diagnosis was quickly confirmed.
Then in the early morning hours the next day, her father, Rafael, a diabetic, dropped dead suddenly at home.
His death wasn’t attributed to COVID. He wasn’t even tested, as far as the family knows, but it’s hard for them to believe he didn’t have it under the circumstances.
Everyone else living in the home — Alonzo’s mother Audelia, Alma and Alma’s two children— subsequently tested positive.
Then on December 16, the family received the call from Holy Cross Hospital that Raquel Alonzo had also died.
It was a cruel one-two punch for the Alonzos, who can’t stop second-guessing themselves about where things went wrong.
“How? How is this possible? Especially her,” said Alma Alonzo. “She was terrified to go out. She was terrified. She didn’t go out for four months at one point.”
Except for being overweight, Alonzo had no known health problems, her sister said.
Like Raquel, Alma worked from home. Their parents are retirees who don’t drive. Alma’s children, ages 7 and 13, were getting their schooling at home through e-learning.
The Alonzos had their groceries delivered. They received no visitors. On the rare occasions somebody did venture beyond the house, they changed clothes and washed them when they returned.
The last time the family went out prior to getting sick was on Oct. 31 to drop off their mail ballots for the presidential election, Alma said.
“We were sure to be careful. All we do is try to figure out how, where, when?” she said. “We try to remember what did we do? Where did we go?”
I’ve seen other families torture themselves this same way, and in the end, there’s just no way of knowing. Even when families find a logical point of potential exposure, they can’t be sure.
Raquel Alonzo, who was called Rachel by her family, was a shy young woman just starting to come into her own as she began to realize her potential in the classroom.
“You couldn’t tell she was a shy person when she got in front of those kids,” said her close friend and co-worker Kim Krawczyk. “She completely came out of her shell.”
Alonzo worked as Krawczyk’s preschool teacher’s assistant at St. Richard Catholic School, then followed her this year to Zizumbo Elementary School, both in Archer Heights. Alonzo started the school year as a kindergarten apprentice teacher and later became the substitute music instructor.
“I think she had an amazing future as an educator,” Krawczyk said.
A graduate of Gage Park High School with an associate degree from Daley College, Alonzo worked in day care before moving to the classroom.
Alonzo was nervous about going back to school to get her degree but had recently started to gain confidence, her sister said. She would have graduated next year.
“She loved kids, especially her nieces and nephews,” said Alma Alonzo.
And “all the kids loved her,” said another friend, Aida Rodriguez, who worked with Alonzo at a day care center. “She was awesome with the kids and the parents.”
The death of a niece from leukemia five years ago was especially hard on Alonzo, who had a close relationship with the girl, her sister said.
Alonzo is survived by her mother, two sisters, Alma and Ana, a brother, Jose, and three nieces and nephews.
A funeral Mass is scheduled for 10 a.m., Dec. 26, at St. Clare of Montefalco Catholic Church, 5443 S. Washtenaw.
Alonzo’s friends have started a GoFundMe page to help the family.
“I don’t think she knew how many people loved her and respected her as a teacher,” Krawczyk said. “I just wish she knew that.”
Letting her family know has to count for something.