Episode five transcript

[00:00] ELLEN:  Our lives are defined by key moments, sometimes expected, sometimes unexpected. This podcast explores the stories of extraordinary moments in our everyday lives, the joys and celebrations as well as the challenges and surprises. These stories provide opportunities to share ideas and takeaways to learn from. To witness moments where love becomes a living, breathing action that showcases strength, resilience, beauty, and humanity.

I am your host, Ellen Adair, and welcome to Love Takes Action brought to you by New York Life, helping people act on their love and successfully navigate life's biggest choices since 1845.

[00:58] ELLEN: Today, we’re talking about:  “Losing loved ones who were frontline healthcare workers during the Pandemic.” And how their stories should be remembered because their sacrifices have brought us all to where we are today. 

[01:09 ]SHERYL:

 … family is not really a place. It's where you are with the people that you love.

…It’s better to show kindness.

…For me, grace is just something that I feel.

[01:22] ELLEN: And we’ll talk with the Brave of Heart fund which gave grants to surviving family members to fill the financial gap left by these tragic deaths ...

[01:29] TRUDY: 

…After every storm, there's a rainbow.

…For me, I felt like okay, this is my way to help.

…We bring hope to people who find themselves in hopeless situations.

[01:42] ELLEN:  On today’s episode, we are speaking with Sheryl Pabatao, a daughter of two healthcare workers who passed away in the earliest days of the pandemic here in the United States.

[01:51] ELLEN:  Sheryl, thanks for joining us.

[01:53] SHERYL: You're welcome.

[01:56] ELLEN;  If you would tell us a little bit about your childhood.

[01:58 ] SHERYL:  We grew up in the Philippines. When we migrated to the United States we had to leave my older brother and sister in the Philippines so that was like a big hit on us. We're very close, tight knit family. Happy, simple, you know, trying to live the American dream.

[02:15] ELLEN:  How old were you when you came to the United States?

[02:19] SHERYL: I just turned 16 that time. So, I pretty much already almost an adult. So, I grabbed up customs of Filipino customs, but also adapted to American culture. Think I was the first one that adapted to the culture because I went to high school here and I made friends right away. So, it was harder for my younger brother and my older sister to kind of build that friendship, I guess in a way.

[02:47 ELLEN:  What line of work did your parents choose?

[02:50] SHERYL:  My mom loves her patient. She's a certified nursing assistant. She pretty much the one that deals with the patient all day long. She wakes them up. She feeds them. She washed them. She talks to them.

My father started working in the hospital right away.

He's an orderly / transporter. What he does, he pretty much transport patient. So, every time they're finished with their labs or anything like that, he transport them from the lab room to their room. You know, they might not be making the six, seven figures like most people do, but they did work with all their heart.

[03:32 ELLEN: Do you remember any particular lessons that your parents stressed to you?

[03:37] SHERYL: In the beginning, it was hard because we had to leave our family there. But my mom and my dad will always say, “Family is not really a place. It's where you are with the people that you love.”

And, ah, what else? My parents always say, “Follow your dreams. Whatever it is. You can go to school. You can be whatever you want to be.”

My father has always been fond of me. He's like, ‘You are the type of person you can be whatever you want to be. You can be a lawyer. You can be a doctor. You can be whatever it is that you want. As long as you set your mind to it. You can be it.’

 I think I learned to contain that emotional intelligence because of my parents, as well to always give grace.  To always understand people in a way like, maybe, you caught them in a wrong moment, you know?

It's better to show kindness, you know, in this hateful world.

So, they're always bestowed those wisdom on us.

[04:36] ELLEN: Those are just the best lessons, really. Just lovely. So, going into 2020 what was your family's attitude like?   

[04:45] SHERYL:  I felt like there was like a premonition with 2020 for us. Ending of 2019, we got to spend time together as family. We got to go to like, my mom's holiday party. Usually it's only me. So, people always think I'm the only child because I'm always the one with my parents.

But that time, we were all able to go together in a holiday party.

So, we welcome 2020 as if, like, Oh my gosh, this is like an amazing year. Gonna be full of activities. I was even planning to surprise my parents to go to, like, Europe because they've never been to Europe before. So, I wanted to like do like a little euro trip with them.

When the pandemic happened, it was completely caught by surprise, I guess. It's something I didn't expect to happen with our family, knowing that, you know, we're healthcare workers, so we're familiar with all this stuff.

My parent’s anniversary is in the beginning of the year, so we celebrated a 44th year. It was just, in the beginning, it’s all about just celebration.

[05:53] ELLEN:  When did you first hear about the Coronavirus?

[05:56] SHERYL:  Me, personally, I’m a kind of crazy research person. So, truly in 2019 I already heard about COVID-19. It was back in when it was still in China, and they were trying to contain it there. I'm a public health major so I'm very kind of nerdy when it comes to like, endemic and stuff like that. So, when I heard about it, I researched more about it. In the beginning, I actually thought it was almost just like influenza.

[06:25] ELLEN: When did you first talk with your parents about it? Do you remember?

[06:28] SHERYL:  Oh, in the beginning of the year! Even though we were having, like, a great time in the beginning of 2020, I was already in cautious mode.

I think the first case in New Jersey came in beginning of February or something like that. And I was already telling my parents to like, “Be careful. Make sure you wash your hands and if you're able to wear your mask, you know, wear your mask.”

And then I remember I got into a little argument with him because he was like, “Why are you so worried?”

I'm like, “Dad, because we don't know what this is. You know? You're literally a high risk. You're over 65. You don't have a good heart. You're literally pretty much the risk factors,” I said.

[07:10] ELLEN: So, how did your dad first come into contact with COVID?

[07:15] SHERYL: I think it was on a Tuesday. I remember because a week after that, that’s when he started getting sick. And he told me he transported a patient. The patient has been waiting there for a couple of minutes or so. Nobody wanted to like, transport him because this person is a presumptive positive already. This is contagious. And deadly. So, nobody wanted to transport him.

So, my dad, he was like, ‘I feel so bad for this patient.’ You shouldn't look at patient like that if you work in a hospital, you know? And that's why he decided that he will transport this patient himself.

But the way how he was telling me about this, is just, really reminded me how my Dad has such a great heart. Even though it's not his assignment, he went and transport this patient because he felt really bad. And I remember when he said that, it hit me.

And I started doing my investigation thing on my Dad. “Were you wearing a PPE? Were you wearing your mask? What kind of mask were you wearing? Were you wearing your gown?”

And I know before this conversation, he was already telling us that he was reusing his gown because they don't have anything.

[08:31] ELLEN: Yeah, I remember at the time hearing the stories about hospitals not having enough PPE, but your father just kept going. Wow.

[08:42] SHERYL:  My father, that time, he’s an old school guy. And he's like, ‘I've survived all these years and I'm fine.’ You know, this is just like a virus that he thinks is just something that, you know, like a flu, you can get over it and stuff like that.

That's why I think when he got it, we didn't kind of take it seriously at first, because we were thinking that he had just allergies, because it's allergy season.

[09:07] ELLEN: Yeah, we had so much less information about COVID back then. It was so hard to know anything for sure.

[09:14] SHERYL: He didn't even think about PPE, honestly. In his heart, he was just, I need to transport this patient and I don't want him to feel some sort of any other way. You know? I don't want him to feel bad. He didn't even think about PPE, to protect himself.

[09:30] ELLEN: He probably thought about the patient?

[09:32] SHERYL;  Yes. He was thinking about the patient first. That was his first thought. His first thought was like, ‘I want to make sure this patient is comfortable.’

[09:40] ELLEN: When did you first learn that your Dad wasn't feeling 100%?

[09:45] SHERYL: I think what got me worried was Tuesday night when he was sneezing and all that stuff. But, then my mom told me that he was having chills. And then when we checked his temperature, he has a fever. And I told my mom, this is not normal. This is not allergies. It could be a flu.

So, I told them the next day we have to go to the doctor and get Dad checked. And they were like, 'Okay, we're gonna go to the doctor and stuff like that.’ So, that was what we did. We went to the doctor the next day. My dad's doctor actually told him to go to the ER. He's not going to see him. And I decided, I’m, like, “Listen, we can’t keep Dad at home. We got to take him to the ER.” And that's when we decided to go to the ER.

[10:34] ELLEN:  How do you think your mom contracted it?

[10:38] SHERYL: The only thing that really makes sense to me is she contracted it with my father, because they slept together. You know, when my dad was started, like when he got sick, she was the one right next to him, you know? She was the one taking care of him. You know, he's sneeze, they're right next to each other. So, that just makes sense to me. I was sick too, because I was in the same household as they were. We were all sick in the household. But, like, I really do believe my mom got it from my father.

[11:09] ELLEN: When did your mom start showing signs?

[11:12] SHERYL: The day that I took my father to the hospital, my mom, I don't know what it was, maybe her immune system went down and that's when she start showing symptoms. She started sneezing as well and she was like, having fever. I was monitoring her every four hours. And Thursday, that's when she started to show more symptoms, you know? She's having fever and chills throughout the day and she was having diarrhea. And then that Friday was the time where they open up like this testing center around New Jersey. We went to try to get tested for my mother, but we waited there for hours and there was always like a cut off. It's a horrible time. I already know she had it, because it's the same symptoms as my father. But in my head I was just praying that it's not you know, she probably just got sick because her immune system went down

[12:15] ELLEN: So, once your dad went to the hospital, did he ever come home?

[12:19] SHERYL: No.

[12:21] ELLEN: How about your mom?

[12:22] SHERYL: No.

[12:24] ELLEN: What was the gap between their two trips to the hospital?

[12:28] SHERYL: My dad went on Thursday, and my mother went on, four days later, on Sunday night.

[12:36] ELLEN: The same hospital?

[12:38] SHERYL: Same hospital, yes.

[12:39] ELLEN: I understand you probably were not allowed in the hospital because of lockdown. Do you know what their days were like? Did they room together, or did they see each other at all?

[12:50] SHERYL: No, not at all. I don't even think my father knew that my mom went to the hospital, because when my mother went to the hospital, my father went on cardiac arrest already, earlier that day. And I don't think my father knew that my mom was in the hospital. My mom knew that my dad is in the hospital. She wanted to see my dad but she couldn't. We spoke with my father until he went on cardiac arrest. The nurses they were very helpful and tried to help us with everything anyway and tell us you know what's going on? Or at least they try their best.

[13:26] ELLEN: What an unfathomably difficult time. And you said you were sick then too, right?

[13:34] SHERYL: I remember that morning. I was, I felt like I was very, very sick. I couldn't get up. My entire body hurts as if, like, I got run over by a train. But in my head, I need to get up because my brother is also sick. So, I need to make food for us. You know, I need to make food. I need to cook and stuff like that. That's what I was thinking in the beginning. I was sick for a long time actually. I was sick for almost two weeks, I would say.

[14:03] ELLEN: Oh, my goodness.

[14:05] SHERYL:  What got me really sick is when they passed away. I, at that moment I didn't want to live anymore. I said, “I can’t.” I just, how can I even continue to live in that moment? And I was so mad at God. I was so mad at him, truly. Like I was fighting with him in my head, you know? Like, how dare you? Like I serve you. I dedicated my life to you. I volunteered. I did everything that any humans can do to just be great in this world and then you take my heart with you. You know? Why you took away my heart? That’s what I said.

[14:42] ELLEN: Yeah, that's understandable, and you were so sick.

[14:45] SHERYL: I almost gave up. I'm gonna be honest here. I almost gave up. I think what got to me was my sister the night before, she saw how I was very sick. I couldn’t breathe. I was having difficulty breathing. Nobody was home. My brother was there, but we're both sick. I couldn’t breathe.

 And my sister said, “Listen. You have to pull yourself together.” And she said,” I don't want to bury three people this month. So please, fight!”

And when she said that I really felt bad for my siblings, you know? We love each other so much. They already lost enough and you know, why am I going to give up?

[15:31] ELLEN:  Was that the turning point for you?

[15:34] SHERYL: So, the next day, I was sleeping and I was mad at God. I was arguing with him in my head and I said, “I hate you,” I said,” I hate you” or something like that. I said all those bad things. And I remember my room was so dark, except there's this part of ,like a little sunlight shining through on top of my closet. And on top of my closet I have a lot of this little quotation, little things like quotes, like a Bible quote and I'm not sure if you guys are familiar, but it's Jeremiah 29:11.

And I read through it and it says, “ For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.”

 And I remember when I read that I was like, “Really God, really? Like you're talking to me like right now?” I'm like, “I don't even want to hear you.” 

But something inside of me stirred, inside of me truly like, it's like a snap. After I read it, I argue with God in my head for a little bit and then I got up. I opened my curtain. And I remember as I have a mirror right there in that closet, and I look at myself, and I say, “That's it. This is it. We're done.”

And at that moment I was, I started talking to my virus and I said, “This is it. We're done.” I’m like, “You've been in my body for how many days now? You're not even paying rent. You gotta get out.” I said, “You gotta get evicted.”

[17:09] ELLEN:  (laughter) So, when did you know that you were kicking COVID to the curb.

[17:13] SHERYL: After reading Jeremiah quote, resiliency came out and say, “Sheryl, you are better than this. You are not the person to feel sorry for yourself, first and foremost. And if Mom and Dad is here, if they're here, they know that you're not this type of person. So, you gotta get up.” And that's when I knew.

[17:35] ELLEN:  That's one way that their legacy was living with you. But then you chose to share their story with other people, too.

[17:43] SHERYL: It gave me some peace to know that as much as I tell their story, the more I find peace inside of me. The more it got clear to me the purpose of their life.

[17:57] ELLEN: I know you got connected with the Brave of Heart Fund, which was giving grants to families of front-line healthcare workers who lost their lives to COVID. Talk about your decision to apply to the program.

[18:10] SHERYL: I don't like feeling like I'm asking people for money or anything like that because of my parents. Because money is not going to bring them back, right?

I started paying attention about Brave of Heart around December. The last day to apply for that grant was December 31st and I believe I started doing the application, like, mid December. And I remember when I sent all the, you know, requirements, and it was so quick. They sent me right away the grant and I didn't expect it to be that amount.

I remember when I saw it, I was expecting it to be the cost of my parents funeral, you know, cost. And when I saw it, I was so surprised that  I divided into five right away and they sent it to my siblings without even telling them. I just sent it to them.

And they're all like, ‘Who is this money for?’ And this is around Christmas, right? So, I'm like, “I can't say it came from me, but it's blessings.” I said, “It's a blessings for all of us.”

And you know, I'm gonna be honest with you in that moment, I really felt like my parents are still working for us, you know, in our favor. And it's truly such a blessings in our family, you know? I'm forever grateful. I always say,” Financially I don't need anything from anybody because truly money you can always make.” But, this helped a lot.

[19:42] ELLEN:  Of course. So, what have you taken with you from this trying process?

[19:48] SHERYL: When I look at myself in the mirror in the morning, I say, “Thank God that I'm alive.” Life is too short. So, live it the best way you can. And that's why I know this might sound repetitive to a lot of people but I always say, “Give grace. Give kindness, because you never know when it's your last.” And I really do believe in that, like, you enjoy life as much as you can.

The things you cannot control, don't worry about it. Cause you can’t control it. Why would you stress out, you know? And the things that you can control, then figure out how you can control it and resolve it instead of just dwelling. But every day I wake up and I say, “Thank you God for another day of life.”

[20:38] ELLEN:   And that’s such a powerful place for you to get to, because your father showing grace, showing a willingness to help others, resulted in him getting Covid. It’s not fair.

 [20:50] SHERYL: It's not, but I guess in my head or in my heart, knowing that my Dad and my parents, the way they went, the way they went to the other life is because they showed grace, because they dedicated their life to their job. I think that's what gives me, gives me peace in my heart.

[21:13] ELLEN: For you, how does grace manifest itself?

[21:17] SHERYL: For me, grace is just something that I feel. To understand people. To be patient. To just give that graceful self of yours.

I don't know lately, every time I think of it, I think of my parents.

Don't just give grace because I'm telling you to give grace. Give grace because you mean it, give grace because your heart wants to.

[21:39] ELLEN: Sheryl, thank you so much for sharing your parents' story and opening your generous heart to us.

(Sound Design)

[21:49]  We now have the pleasure to discuss the Brave of Heart Fund with Trudy Lindsey Dinkins, a Program Delivery Manager with E4E & Brave of Heart. Their grants to families of Healthcare workers who died as a direct result of COVID-19 provided relief at a time when it was most needed.  Their program gave over 31 million dollars to 113 applicants which covered the cost of funeral services, housing expenses, tuition payments and so much more.

Trudy, it's a real honor to have you with us today.

[22:24] TRUDY: Well, thanks for having me, Ellen. It's an honor to be here. I was so excited when I got the call to come on to your podcast, Ellen.

[22:34] ELLEN: Can you tell us about the Brave of Heart Program?

[22:37] TRUDY: Brave of Heart is a great collaboration of New York Life, Cigna and then E4E relief. And it was strategically put together to help families of those who lost loved ones that worked in health care due to COVID.

So, we collaborated this program to allow family members, surviving family members, to submit applications to us and be awarded charitable grants that they don't have to pay back to help them get through the loss of their loved one that worked in healthcare.

[23:16] ELLEN:  You have these tragic events leading to this need but this program is really able to benefit people when they need it most.

[23:26] TRUDY: It really is.  I thought about that as soon as you said that, like how they say after every storm, there's a rainbow, right? So, after every storm, you look out sometimes and you see this beautiful rainbow just appear. Here we have this pandemic, that’s taken over, that's hitting everyone. You cannot escape from it. No matter where you live, where you were. This pandemic is here.

And in the midst of it for, for us to come together and again, create a program such as Brave of Heart to be able to bring some financial relief to surviving family members who had family members work in the front line, like some of them knew it was a guarantee that they were going to succumb to COVID, right?

But, for us to have this program that we're going to be there to help you through this when this strikes your family, and that you have someone who's working in health care, we're going to be there for you. For me, I felt like, okay, this is my way of being able to help.

[24:38] ELLEN: Did you have any connection to the healthcare industry in your personal life, at the time

[24:44] TRUDY: Absolutely. And I did. I have a lot of friends. Family members who are nurses. Who are doctors. I even lost a close friend that I went to high school with, who was an administrator in a health care facility to COVID.

I remember her sister calling me and was saying, “You know, I need you to pray for Mimi. You know, she’s in the hospital and she contracted COVID.” And I said, “Okay”, and I remember calling my family saying, “You know Mimi's in a hospital. We have to pray for Mimi, that you know, she gets better.” 

And I believe Mimi was in there for about two weeks before her body couldn't take it anymore. She had some other underlying health issues and she succumbed to COVID. And I remember talking to Jennifer, her sister, and I said, "Jen, you have to apply to this program.”

You know, whenever I think of Mimi now, it brings me that joy again to know that I was able to help her family even in her death. I'll remember it for the rest of my life.

[25:52] ELLEN:  Are there other stories that have stuck with you? Obviously, there’s no amount of money that can approach the value of a loved one, but I have to imagine there were some circumstances where the money was more than just money.

[26:07] TRUDY: So, oh, the emails that we received from some of the applicants with thanks of gratitude for what we were able to assist with.

These were applicants who, you know, a lot of their, their loved ones that worked in a healthcare field, they were the breadwinners of the family. So, we were able to save people from becoming homeless. Like they didn't know if they were going to be able to keep their home or stay in their apartment, drive their cars. Some of them had children that was attending college, and they didn't know how they were going to be able to help them stay in school.

It’s, so we were able to bring financial relief and as you said, Ellen, it wasn't just about the money. It was just sanity, just peace to bring into their house.

Just a level of peace, as they still try to figure out how to live without their loved one.

[27:07] ELLEN: When did you first come in contact with Sheryl?

[27:10] TRUDY:  Sheryl, I first heard about Sheryl before her application was actually submitted. I heard it from one of my superiors saying that, “Hey, there's a potential applicant, who lost both her parents for COVID.”

And I was like, “Oh, wow.” And they were like, “She's already been verified with New York Life and she should be submitting her application.”  So, we were looking out for her application before her application even came in.

This was the first one that we have heard of that they lost both parents due to COVID.

[27:46] ELLEN: How are the grants structured?

[27:49] TRUDY: The Brave of Heart Fund was set up where it was phase one and phase two. And phase one, we helped with funeral expenses, burial expenses.

So, again, this is our first applicant where we're seeing that they have two parents. So, we had already known that okay, this person will receive two phase one grants, because one for each parent.

So, it was again, already a connection that I felt - compassion towards her, sympathy for her to lose parents at such a young age, because we capture that on the application also.

[28:28] ELLEN: It must have been so difficult hearing the stories of the people applying for the grants.

[28:34] TRUDY:  I talked to one gentleman who had lost his wife, and he said he felt so lost. Like, he didn't even know what to do. It took him a while to even complete the application, because he couldn't get through the application without crying. It's like, they're reliving losing their loved one all over again.

So, it was heartbreaking. At the same time, they were very grateful that there was a program such as Brave of Heart there for them. So, again it was always double folded, right? It was sad because of what they were going through, but it was enlightening because here is a program that can help, you know, bring you some type of relief in a hopeless situation.

I always say, “We bring hope to people who find themselves in hopeless situations.”

[29:28] ELLEN: Sounds like a pretty incredible place to work.

[29:30] TRUDY: Absolutely, I can honestly say, there's never a day that I feel like I don't want to work today.

[29:30] ELLEN: That’s amazing. What were some of the things that stood out to you about Sheryl's story and why her story was so impactful for Brave of Heart, and for all of us?

[29:51] TRUDY: A few things stood out to me. For her to come on and talk with just boldness and, and confident, and joy. There was joy. I heard joy in her voice. This is someone who lost two parents and has younger siblings that she still looks after, in some way, shape or form. So, to hear her come on and still speak with joy in her heart, also made me feel like I knew her parents, because I'm seeing them through Sheryl.

For this girl to get on and talk about grace. She mentioned grace so many times, of extending grace, and how she still felt like that is her duty. Her parents had taught her in the midst of all of this and losing us that you still are to extend grace.

She spoke about her children’s children will hear about her parents. Like she will never let them die. Oh my God. I just felt that so in my heart that she is the epitome of Brave of Heart. Here Brave of Heart has this program to help people such as Sheryl, but I look at Sheryl as being the brave of heart.

[31:10] ELLEN: Absolutely. Trudy, thank you for joining us today.

[31:15] TRUDY: It's my honor and pleasure to do this. So, thank you.

[31:18] ELLEN: And thank you for joining us on this episode of Love Takes Action. If you like what you hear, we invite you to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform–you can add your comments, and share with your friends and family. It’s a chance to celebrate the voices of our inspiring guests and their stories. You can also follow us on Twitter, Instagram or visit our website at newyorklife.com

[34:54]        DISCLAIMER:     Love Takes Action is brought to you by New York Life Insurance Company and is for general informational purposes only. References to any financial products or strategies are solely incidental and may not be construed as a solicitation. The views and opinions expressed on this show are solely those of the host, guests, and experts, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or viewpoints of New York Life Insurance Company or its subsidiaries.



Listen to all podcast episodes here.

Media contact
Sara Sefcovic
New York Life Insurance Company
(212) 576-4499
Sara_M_Sefcovic@newyorklife.com