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Scathing Obit Blaming Politicians For Father's COVID-19 Death 'Hit A Nerve'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Arizona is also experiencing a surge of coronavirus cases. Health officials there are warning that ICU beds are getting close to capacity with COVID patients. Earlier this week, in an obituary in The Arizona Republic, we learned about one of those patients who didn't survive - 65-year-old Mark Urquiza. It was written by his daughter Kristin, who shared these memories with us.

KRISTIN URQUIZA: He would give the shirt off his back to a complete stranger, a friend of a friend. You know, as I get more and more stories and from folks saying, he helped me move furniture in 115-degree heat when nobody would or, you know, the fact when I moved to California, he gave me his old 1997 pickup truck, even though it wasn't worth much and he didn't have much to give. But he knew that I needed to be able to have a car to get around here having moved from the East Coast. And that's just the kind of guy my dad was.

MARTIN: The obituary she wrote had a lot of stories like that. But this next part is getting a lot of attention, and you'll hear why.

MARTIN: Mark, like so many others, should not have died from COVID-19. His death is due to the carelessness of the politicians who continued to jeopardize the health of brown bodies through a clear lack of leadership, refusal to acknowledge the severity of this crisis and the inability and unwillingness to give clear and decisive direction on how to minimize risk.

MARTIN: And Kristin Urquiza is with us now.

Kristin, thank you so much for being with us. I'm sorry to be speaking under these circumstances, but thank you for joining us.

URQUIZA: Thank you so much for inviting me.

MARTIN: One of the things about the obituary that got my attention is that you made a point of saying, this should not have happened.

URQUIZA: Yes.

MARTIN: And I just wondered what gave you the idea to say that.

URQUIZA: From the moment my father fell ill, I not only was terrified and wanting to pull my hair out, but I was focused on this phrase that kept coming to my mind - this should not be happening. And what I meant by that is, you know, my dad should not have gotten sick.

When Governor Ducey rolled back his stay-at-home order, which was - he was eager to do and early to do, he was as late as June saying, go out to a restaurant with your friends. You know, practice some social distancing, but let's kind of get out there and get the economy started.

And so my mother and I were talking to my dad about, you know, what we should be doing as a family and individually. My dad came back to say, well, why should I not go out and meet up with some friends? The governor's saying it's OK.

MARTIN: What reaction have you gotten since you posted your obituary? I mean, what do you think it's sparked in people? Why do you think it's caused such a reaction?

URQUIZA: I think that I've hit a nerve. The reaction that I've got, which has been an outpouring of support, including people who have come forward on social media channels saying, I've told my children if I should die from COVID, they need to write an obituary just like this. And we're fed up. And I think that, you know, the obituary and sort of just naming who was in charge - I was one of the first people to publicly come out and point the finger, if you will, at the right individuals who are responsible for this.

MARTIN: I understand that you invited Governor Ducey to your father's funeral.

URQUIZA: That is true. I...

MARTIN: Did you get any response?

URQUIZA: I sent him a letter. I had confirmation delivery, so I know somebody from his office received it. But I never received a response from the office or the governor himself.

MARTIN: Why did you want him to come?

URQUIZA: Well, I mean, at that point, there was nearly 2,000 people in Arizona who had passed and a thousand since June 1, which would have been two weeks after his executive order was lifted. And I wanted him to see, you know, what that meant, what that policy error, what that leadership error meant to, you know, a family that he is supposed to protect and support.

MARTIN: I understand that you've raised money from a GoFundMe. What's the plan for that?

URQUIZA: It's to support that organizing activity. The first, you know, bit of that was to pay for the costs of the funeral and then cover some of the outstanding, you know, bills that were left behind. But above and beyond that, I want to sponsor obituaries for other people. One of the things that I've seen through the social media channels is so many people saying, if I had the resources, I would have written an obituary like this. And it just shocked me to realize that, yes, obituaries are expensive.

And in particular, whenever this pandemic is disproportionately hitting people like my family - you know, Mexican Americans who might not have, you know, the best-paying jobs but, you know, are kind of scraping by - I want to be able to support my community and bringing forward their voices because it feels right now that no one is listening to them.

And those communities - they matter to me. And they matter to all of us. I mean, they're the folks that are still working right now. And they deserve to have their stories told because their lives are being robbed disproportionately by this pandemic.

MARTIN: Well, before we let you go, I mean, I don't want to lose sight of the fact that you just lost your dad.

URQUIZA: Yeah.

MARTIN: And your mom just lost her husband. How are you two doing?

URQUIZA: It's hard. You know, this morning, I was just - I just got back from Arizona to California, and it's hitting me in a whole new way. I told my partner Christine (ph) I can't look at the pickup truck. I'm not ready. I'm not ready to look at it. And I also was overwhelmed with grief when I realized that, you know, my dad was so proud of being an organ donor, and I had just realized for the first time this morning, like, oh, my goodness. He wasn't able to be able to donate his organs, which is so what he wanted to be able to do.

It's a huge loss. And I'm not sure if I'm ever going to get over it. But that's part of why I fight - because I know it's what he deserved, and I know it's what more people deserve as well. And so I do it to honor his legacy and find a way to grieve but not grieve alone and grieve for a bigger cause.

MARTIN: Kristin Urquiza is the founder of Marked by COVID. It's an organization she founded to take note of the deaths of people who have died from COVID-19 like her father, Mark Anthony Urquiza. She wrote about him in The Arizona Republic.

Kristin Urquiza, thanks so much for talking to us. And I'm so very sorry for your loss.

URQUIZA: Thank you again for having me on.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "PAST IS PROLOGUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.