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Loss Of Son To COVID-19 Adds To Mother's Grief

Brian Bull

Losing a loved one - especially a child – is devastating. Jennifer Phillips of Eugene has felt that pain twice. Her 19-year-old daughter, Jessica Frank, was murdered four years ago by a man she met online…while her son, Chad Frank, died of COVID-19 last month at the age of 30.  KLCC’s Brian Bull met with Phillips, a registered nurse, and asked how she was holding up through the holiday season.

Phillips: It’s been very difficult. Without my family and my friends supporting me, I wouldn’t be doing as well as I am.  I have a very good therapist that I see weekly.  And all those components are keeping me functioning.

Bull:  You have other relatives for support, correct?

Phillips: My child Kaley, and my grandchildren.  Chad had a daughter.  And she has a brother, and so my grandchildren and my daughter keep me going.

Bull: What is it about Chad’s life that you want people to remember?

Phillips: Chad had a lot of obstacles in his life. He was born to teenage parents. Had attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder as a youngster.  He was homeless and had some addiction issues when he was younger. He overcame that.  He turned his life around in about the last five years, and had stable housing, stable job. He got his drivers license back, he had his license suspended, he worked on getting that back. We were just so proud of him, how hard he worked and had overcome these obstacles. And made these improvements in his life. And for him to just get sick and die the way he did…it was just so devastating. And I find myself even at times not believing that he’s gone. I’m still in the denial phase of grief, and the shock phase.  

Bull: Jennifer, when did you hear about Chad’s death?

Phillips:  That morning his father found him, his body.  He went to check on him I think around 9:15 in the morning. Nobody had heard from him, Chad lived alone.  His father went to check on him, found him deceased.  And I got a phone call that he was dead.  And I was just absolutely hysterical. Because it – not only from losing Chad - but it also brought back the trauma also of losing my daughter, Jessica.  

Bull: She was murdered by a man that she'd met online. Have you been able to process and move on past that tragedy?

Phillips:  I haven’t, no.  I believe I’ve compartmentalized it, I’ve kind of put it in a special little box and put it away...in order to be able to go on and function with my life.  

Bull: And you yourself have recently contended with COVID-19.

Phillips: Yeah, I became sick, I started having symptoms around the same time Chad did when he told me his symptoms. I said, “Okay, you need to go get tested.” I went myself and got tested, I was positive. He replied – we were texting – he was positive.  One evening I was home and I just had this sudden onset of extreme shortness of breath.  And I was checking my pulse-oximeter, which measures the percentage of oxygen in your blood. And I was down to 70% and I had this horrible feeling that I was going to die. So I immediately called 911, and the paramedics rushed me to the hospital, and diagnosed with pneumonia.  And I stayed in the hospital for five days.  I’m still recovering, I’m doing much better.  

Bull: The headlines still have people downplaying COVID-19, with some even calling it a “hoax” and rebelling against protocols, including the wearing of masks. What do you have to say to these people?

Phillips:  I don’t really know what to say.  I respond online on social media and I just share my story of what happened, how my son died, and I was hospitalized. I just try to make people aware, this is our story.  This is what happened to us.  I hear a lot of feedback of, “Well we had it, our family had it, we recovered…we were fine.”  That’s true, there are those who do get it and recover and may be fine. But for those who don’t and die and are gone…you don’t get their life back.  

Bull:  If you were able to have Chad and Jessica back, if even for one moment, Jennifer, what would you want to say to them?

Philips: I would just want them to know how much I love them and I miss them. And how much I’d want to keep them.  I’d want to keep them not for a moment, I’d want to keep them forever.

Bull: Jennifer, I really want to thank you for your time, and for sharing your story, and talking about Chad and Jessica. Thank you also for all you and other healthcare workers are doing out there on the front lines and have done during this pandemic. And I’m sorry for your loss. 

Phillips: Thank you very much.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (19 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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