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Remembering Carol "Mommom" Cohn, lost to COVID in 2020

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Over the last two years, we've been remembering some of the nearly 1 million people who have died of COVID-19 in the U.S., people like Carol Cohn, known as Mommom to her family. She liked to call her granddaughter, Melanie Gardiner, my sunshine.

MELANIE GARDINER: There was one time I called her, and she just started singing "You Are My Sunshine."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAROL MOMMOM COHN: (Singing) You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray (laughter).

GARDINER: She then started calling me Sunshine. I don't know that she called anyone else that. Honestly, I don't think she did (laughter).

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Melanie says her Mommom loved to spoil her grandchildren with cookies and meals in front of the TV. And she was known for her sense of humor.

GARDINER: There was a time where my cousin Michael asked my grandma as she was putting eye drops in her eyes, you know, what she needed it for. And without missing a beat, she said, it's so I could see your ugly face better. And that is so exemplary of Mommom. The fact that she could come up with that was incredible. She was in her 80s, and she could just rip that off.

CHANG: (Laughter) Along with her quick wit, she was a striking woman with a distinctive taste in fashion.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VOGUE")

MADONNA: Strike a pose.

GARDINER: Mommom always had a matching outfit, loved black and white. If it was a black and white outfit, she'd have black and white earrings. If she was wearing a pink outfit, bright pink earrings to match. And always had - if, you know, we have 10 fingers, rings were on about eight of them.

MCCAMMON: Mommom shared her Jewish faith and heritage with her family. And Melanie says her family's favorite meals included traditional Jewish dishes like lokshen kugel, stuffed cabbage and perhaps most beloved, Mommom's matzo ball soup. Melanie made sure to get the recipe for that one.

GARDINER: She gave me a pen and paper and said, you know, you're going to take notes. And you're going to watch me do what I'm doing. And as she's putting together the matzo balls, you know, she's like, honestly, Mel, it's so easy, even an idiot can do it.

CHANG: Her husband, Bill, died in 2003. But her love for her family just kept her going. In her later years, Mommom settled in a retirement community in Freehold, N.J.

MCCAMMON: In March of 2020, Melanie got a call informing her some of the residents had contracted COVID. Mommom tested positive soon after.

GARDINER: I remember getting this just sinking, awful feeling that it was going to get her, too.

CHANG: While Mommom managed to fight through the worst of it, the virus took a toll on her. She was eventually transferred to the nursing home's hospice facility. And despite restrictions on visitors, Melanie managed to convince the staff to allow her in for a final goodbye.

GARDINER: So I went in to her room. Her eyes were closed, but I sat down and I said, you know, hi, Mommom. And she opened her eyes, smiled and said, you know, hi, Mel. She whispered it. And I held her cold little hands through my glove. I kissed her head through my mask what felt like a thousand times. And I got to tell her, I love you, you mean the world to me.

MCCAMMON: Carol "Mommom" Cohn died from COVID in April 2020. She was 91.

CHANG: If you would like us to memorialize a loved one you've lost to COVID-19, find us on Twitter at @npratc. There's a pinned tweet at the top of the page.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE")

JASMINE THOMPSON: (Singing) You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.