In May, Cedric Standard’s paternal grandmother, 79-year-old Martha Standard, had heart surgery at Trinity Mother Frances. After she was sent home, she was still feeling unwell. Her doctor prescribed her antibiotics, but it didn’t seem to help.

“She could just enjoy sitting out there in the heat, but she was in bed all day,” Ashley Davis, Standard’s fiancee, said. “That was the first sign for us.”

At her next doctor’s appointment, Martha was tested for COVID-19. It came back positive. Quickly after that, other members of Standard’s family fell ill, infected by the virus — his grandparents on his mother’s side, Otha and Charles Webster, and his mother, Opal Jean Webster.

During an interview this week with the Tyler Morning Telegraph at the lounge in the art gallery in the Plaza Tower on the square, the family shared the story of their loved ones who died during a 26-day span of this pandemic.

“His (Standard’s) dad did test positive for it, but he didn’t have any symptoms,” Davis said. “These other four, it just hit them hard. Really hard.”

On July 3, Martha died. A little over two weeks later, 79-year-old Otha died on July 20.

“These weren’t just sitting around, older generation people,” Davis said. “These people were active. This virus put them down.”

Standard’s mother, Opal, also went into the hospital at the same time as his grandparents. She and Charles were on the same COVID-19 floor at Trinity Mother Francis Hospital. When Opal first arrived in the hospital, nurses would allow her to video chat with Davis and Standard.

“I talked to her when she was in the hospital, and it sounded like somebody who had been running, out of breath, but she was just laying there,” Standard said.

After two days, Davis said, things took a turn for the worse. Opal was sedated and put on a ventilator, unable to speak. On July 29, she died.

“We couldn’t call, we couldn’t hold their hands while they took their last breath,” Davis said. “They were just dying by themselves. That’s what hurt us … we didn’t get to tell them goodbye.”

Standard and Davis last visited his grandparents for Mother’s Day, but they often talked with them. Standard is an assistant coach at Palestine High School, and his grandparents and mother were always supportive of his career, typically making long drives to watch him and his players at their games.

“As far as I can remember, growing up and playing baseball, from Little League baseball to my time now as a football coach, I would look up in the stands and they were there, supporting,” Standard said.

These three women were not only pillars of his own life, but also his community in Titus County and Mount Pleasant.

Often on holidays like Thanksgiving, his grandmothers and mother would have him passing out meals to the less fortunate and doing other charitable work. Otha, he recounts, would often take in people who needed food and shelter, and instilled in him the importance of taking the Lord with him wherever he went.

“A lot of those women raised me, so it’s kind of like they were the backbone of the family,” Standard said. “And whenever the backbone is gone, it seems like some people may not know what to do.”

Both sets of grandparents lived on the same street so, during his childhood, he would travel from one house to the next. But, he says, that closeness may have been what caused the coronavirus to spread through his family so quickly, all at the same time.

“I think it was just a combination of my mom would go and visit her mother-in-law, and then her mother lived right up the street, so she would walk up the street and check on her mom,” Standard said. “So I think if the one grandma had it down the street, and she visited her, and she went to see her mother, it may have gotten passed that way.”

Standard isn’t sure who might have contracted the virus first or where, but he worries it might have to do with the chicken plant, Pilgrim’s Pride.

At the end of May, Titus County’s per capita positive COVID-19 case count was more than one percent of their total population — much in part to do with the cramped, enclosed conditions of the chicken plant — causing community spread.

But Standard’s family still adhered to the recommended precautions, wearing masks, social distancing, and only leaving the house to go to the grocery store.

“But that whole thing of taking people in when they needed it, no telling who those people were, who they were around, who they came in contact with, and then to come home to them (the rest of the family) and expose them,” Standard said.

His grandfather, Charles, is currently in a rehabilitation facility, but he is not negative for coronavirus yet. Standard is getting updates on his grandfather’s recovery from an uncle, but it’s not always easy to reach him, he says.

“Last time I checked, he was progressing and getting better,” Standard said. “Hopefully, he pulls through.”

Now, Standard and Davis are scrambling to find information on their loved ones’ health and life insurance — if they had it at all. Opal, they say, was the caretaker for both grandparents and would have known where that information was kept. They had to cremate Otha because they were unable to find any policy that allotted money for a funeral service. Now, they’re trying to avoid that with Standard’s mother.

“We don’t want to have to cremate her, we want to be able to visit her, we want to be able to have a place to go and have a conversation with her just to tell her we love her and miss her,” Davis said. “To put on that worry of finding out, how are we going to bury a loved one, it’s hard cause we don’t want to have to deal with that now, but we have to.”

Both Standard and Davis wish they could’ve had these end-of-life conversations with their family — but, Davis said, they didn’t expect to have them so soon.

“We were not expecting this at all,” Davis said. “We lost people so fast, and we thought that we’d get to talk with them again, we thought we’d get to see them again, enjoy their food, enjoy our time with them – and they’re gone. We don’t get to get that back.”

Standard and Davis had a fish fry on Friday to celebrate their loved ones’ lives, as it was the food Otha always made whenever they visited. But they both know that life without them will be “different.”

“I want to go back to being normal too, not wearing masks and not having to social distance, but at the same time, it wiped out our family so fast,” Davis said. “People don’t understand this is not something that is up north. This is happening here.”

Studies by the CDC have shown that COVID-19 is affecting communities of color disproportionately when compared to white populations. Texas is no exception. Black communities make up 14% of COVID-19 deaths across the state, despite being 11.9% of the population.

Multimedia Journalist

Claire Wallace, an East Texan native, joined the team in July 2020, and is dedicated to bringing a complete look at the issues Tylerites are facing. She's previously worked for National Public Radio and The Tyler Loop.

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