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Los Angeles woman whose mom died of Covid-19 had to hold the funeral in a parking lot
AP

Los Angeles woman whose mom died of Covid-19 had to hold the funeral in a parking lot

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Juliana Jimenez Sesma stared down at her mother's casket. Her mother's face was made-up, and her hair done just so. Her expression was frozen.

As Sesma mourned, mariachi music sliced through the silence. "I'd rather be asleep than awake because of how much it hurts that you're not here," the band belted in Spanish.

The song's lyrics capture how Sesma has felt since losing her mother and stepfather to coronavirus.

She buried her mom last week in South Los Angeles. But she had to say her farewell in a parking lot.

There, the casket was placed in one corner, under a pop-up canopy -- with flower arrangements and photos all around. Chairs were spaced apart in parking spaces.

It was the only safe space, where people could socially distance while grieving, that Calvary Chapel -- located near the Sesma family in South LA -- had available.

And with funeral homes backed up because of the surge of Covid-19 deaths across Los Angeles, Sesma said she and her brother had to wait three weeks to hold a funeral.

"Waiting to bury her, that felt like torture," Sesma told CNN. "We worried about how she'd look."

She said she worried that her mother's body would become distorted and begin to decompose before she was able to see her face for the very last time.

At the funeral, Sesma stood while praying. Her faith, she said, is the only thing buoying her in the aftermath of such loss.

Sesma's family contracted Covid in December

Sesma said she left her job as a real estate agent to live with her mother and stepfather because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Her mom, a retired machinist, had lung disease. Her stepfather was a handyman, with asthma and diabetes. Her brother lived next door with his young family.

In December, she said they all contracted Covid-19. Her parents ended up so sick they had to be admitted to Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in South LA.

The state-of-the-art hospital -- which is teeming with patients -- is a haven in what has long been a health care desert in the heavily Black and Latino area of the city.

"Our emergency department was designed to treat 40 to 45,000 patients a year. In 2019 -- before Covid -- we were seeing 110,000 patients a year," hospital CEO Dr. Elaine Batchlor said. "That's largely because of a lack of access to quality care in the community."

Now, with coronavirus, there are even more patients everywhere, she said.

Los Angeles reported 12,617 new cases Monday, bringing the total number of cases in the county to 932,697, as the county nears the grim milestone of 1 million cases. An additional 137 new deaths were reported, raising the total number of deaths to 12,387.

'Don't let this be you'

Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital normally has a 135-bed capacity, but it is now treating more than 200 people inside, according to Batchlor. More than 60% are coronavirus patients.

Batchlor said the hospital gets some of the city's and state's sickest patients.

"Diabetes is three times more prevalent here than in the rest of California. Mortality is 72% higher. The life expectancy is 10 years shorter here than in the rest of the state," Batchlor said. "All of that is related to this being an under-resourced and an underserved community."

And that means that what happened to the Sesma family tends to be the norm, not the exception.

"We have had the misfortune of seeing this disease run through families and, and all too frequently take multiple members of a single family," Dr. Jason Prasso, who treated both Sesma's mother and stepfather, said.

The pain of the losses for the doctors and nurses sits on their shoulders like a dull weight that won't got away. For families, losing someone to Covid takes a devastating toll.

"We lost both my mom and stepdad to coronavirus," Sesma said. "Don't let this be you. If you truly love your loved ones, don't let this be you. Continue to take all the precautions, take extra precautions, exaggerate if you have to."

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