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Remembering an Arizona grandmother and uncle who died of COVID

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

For the past year and a half, we've been remembering some of the more than 800,000 people who have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. And we've asked you to share their stories with us.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today we remember Ruby and Joseph Morton, a mother and son from Page, Ariz. The two attended a church event together in March of 2020.

JASMYN MORTON: This is before anyone knew about masks, and this is before vaccines.

CHANG: That's Jasmyn Morton, one of Ruby's six grandchildren. Although both Ruby and Joseph likely contracted COVID at the church function, this was early on during the pandemic, and nobody in the family knew until tragedy struck. Joseph was found dead at home, and Ruby was taken to the hospital soon after but died less than two weeks later. They were 50 and 73 years old.

SHAPIRO: Jasmyn remembers spending her summers with her grandmother, a member of the Navajo Nation and an active member of the Church of the Nazarene.

MORTON: The entire summer driving around the reservation, the Navajo reservation, going to different church meetings and church functions and spend the time listening to Navajo gospel music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #1: (Singing in Navajo).

MORTON: One thing people have been telling us about my grandmother especially is how much her smile would enliven the mood. She had a really big smile and a very distinctive one.

CHANG: Joseph Morton worked at the Safeway grocery store in Page, mostly stocking the shelves at night.

MORTON: But he was also part of Safeway's team to set up new Safeways that were opening up throughout the state. So he got to travel around Arizona quite a bit, and I think that was something he really enjoyed.

SHAPIRO: Morton was also a union steward for the UFCW Local 99.

MORTON: He did a lot of fundraising for them. People that needed help or anything - he was always there.

CHANG: Jasmyn says she and her uncle shared a love of baseball.

MORTON: I wanted to play baseball, but I was always under the impression that girls couldn't play baseball.

CHANG: Her uncle Joseph wasn't hearing that.

MORTON: He went downstairs to his room, and he came back up. And he had this action figure from "A League Of Their Own." Eventually, we watched the movie. And, you know, I remember him telling me, like, don't ever think that girls can't play baseball.

SHAPIRO: Almost two years later, the family still mourns. But they haven't been able to hold a memorial for Joseph and Ruby Morton yet.

MORTON: We've been waiting for things to calm down, but things haven't. But hopefully this year in March, we're planning on having a service finally. We're going to make it open to the community, where everyone who wants to remember them.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #2: (Singing in Navajo).

CHANG: If you would like us to memorialize a loved one you have lost to COVID-19, find us on Twitter at @NPRATC. There's a pinned tweet at the top of the page. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.