Mom, 44, Lost To Covid-19 Before Son’s HS Graduation

Mary “Cherry” Santiago was a beloved mom. Her best friend and cousin tell her story.

Today, we are sharing the story of Mary “Cherry” Santiago, a devoted mother and friend, who died at 44 after fighting Covid-19 in Evanston, IL.

Mary “Cherry” Santiago was fun-loving and passionate about many things. But her two sons, Alexander and Aiden, were at the top of that list. Just after Alexander graduated from Evanston High School this year, he received a surprise gift in the mail — a longboard.

The gift was from his mom. Tragically, she was not around to give it to him. Santiago had died of Covid-19 at the age of 44 just a few weeks earlier.

“Knowing her, because her boys were her life, she probably thought, ‘I better get this done just in case they keep me in the hospital for a little while,’” her cousin Leah Bardfield told us. “And now it’s sad that he’s opening it and his mother’s not around.”

Santiago was born and raised in Evanston. Hence, she was a Chicago “sports fanatic,” says her best friend Kymberly Thompson.

As an only child, Thompson said, “She was very, very close to her father, who was a major Cubs fan. She’d been watching the Cubs since before she could probably remember.”

When The Last Dance aired, Santiago donned her Bulls jersey and dedicatedly watched each episode. Her cousin said she had such an “outgoing spirit”: “She’d be the first one to crack a joke and say hello to everybody.”

Thompson and Santiago met in high school. They stayed as close as sisters, texting every day and bonding over a shared Filipino heritage. Just weeks before Cherry passed, Thompson was visiting her in Evanston, and they got Filipino food. That was the last time she saw her.

“I do have the entire timeline, from when this whole thing started and we were like sending each other pictures of masks,” Thompson told us. “It was funny. It was like, ‘Yeah, this isn’t serious.’ And then it got real because we started hearing things and then it got closer and closer to home to the point where, boom, here we are.”

Santiago’s symptoms started with a low-grade fever. She was exposed to someone who eventually tested positive for Covid-19 on April 11th, and started to feel sick six days later. Her temperature skyrocketed, so she got tested at a drive-in testing center.

She received her positive result a few days later and was told to quarantine. But her symptoms escalated to that she could barely walk up the stairs without extremely labored breathing. She decided to check into the hospital on May 6th.

“They’ll probably admit me for a day or two, but I need to be home with the boys for Mother’s Day,” she had told Thompson.

Santiago was put on a ventilator at the hospital, and her oxygen levels began to fluctuate. Thompson told us: “She texted me ‘Good morning, Kap,’ which is short for Kapatid, which means ‘sister’ in the Philippines. “She said, ‘Here’s the harsh reality: I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back home.’”

Santiago died on May 12th, two days after Mother’s Day. When Thompson heard, she said: “I almost lost it in a public place.”

“She is the other part of me,” she said. “She’s the one that kept me going, the person I talked to about everything every day. It’s a void that I know won’t be filled. I’ve never been that close to somebody in the way that we were close.”

Thompson flew out to Chicago soon after Santiago passed, to spend some time with her boys.

“I just want to be in the house with them…I want to cook for them on their mother’s stove,” she told us. “I want us to laugh together, cry, and look at pictures. And then I want them to recite poems and we’re going to release balloons at the lakefront.”

Santiago was buried on July 11th.

“Her kids are going to be so well taken care of,” Thompson said. “But they’re two little boys who lost their best friend.”

Our hearts are with Leah, Kym, and their loved ones at this time.

This originally appeared on Medium