This mom started a COVID support group after losing her daughter

After more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States has reached a dark and heartbreaking milestone: this month, more than one million Americans died from the virus, which has become the third leading cause of death. in the country. . It’s another marker that has come with little commemoration or recognition, an example of how the country as a whole is trying to emerge from the pandemic and its realities, even as the virus continues to claim lives. But for those directly affected, there is no forgetting.

Amber Carter lost her 13-year-old daughter Anna, the first child to die of COVID-19 in Oklahoma, In July 2020. The Carters, a military family, have spent their days since then sharing Anna’s story and connecting with others going through their own grief. Amber is a member of COVID Survivors for Change, a nonprofit that advocates for policies to prevent future pandemics and support survivors. She also founded the Anna Belle Carter Memorial Foundation and the Parents Who Have Lost a Child to Covid-19 Facebook support group. “With a tragedy like this, if you can’t find a meaningful purpose in their deaths, you could be really stuck,” she told ELLE.com. “It’s our way of keeping them alive.” Below, Amber shares, in her own words, what it was like to lose Anna so suddenly and how she hopes the country will change in the wake of these tragedies.


It’s hard to describe Anna. Every time she walked into the room, everyone was so excited to see her. She was just fun. She danced. She joked all the time. She really wanted to play. But she said if that didn’t work she would have gone into the medical field, as she suffered from scleroderma, a fairly rare autoimmune disease in children.

In the winter of 2019, I remember hearing a bit about a respiratory virus in China. Then the next thing you know is in Washington State, and it’s affecting all of these seniors. The kids and I got together and made cloth masks and sent a bunch of them to my mom who lives in New York and worked in a nursing home. My eldest daughter said, “I’m really worried about Anna. What if she got it? I’m afraid she’s dying. Looking back, we probably should have been more careful, because we didn’t really know what we were dealing with.

We don’t know exactly where we picked up COVID-19, but my theory is that I probably bought it somewhere like Walmart and brought it home. The week before July 4, I wasn’t feeling well, so I went to the ER. They told me I probably didn’t have COVID, but I had a sinus infection, so they gave me steroids and a Z-Pak and sent me home. Of course, taking steroids, I felt great the next day. No one else in the family was sick, so I didn’t think it was contagious.

On Saturday July 4, we went to our friends’ house and had fireworks, just us and them. I’m not trying to shed light on that; all interactions with people were judged back then. But my husband was about to leave for a year to go to Okinawa, and we wanted to see our friends. We have exposed them all without knowing it.

Anna went to dance camp the following week, and on Tuesday, when my husband picked her up, she threw up at the gas station. She said she felt really bad and thought maybe she had overdone it in class. She stayed home Wednesday and Thursday, but she ate, drank, played on the computer, talked to her friends.

Anna, center, with her family in 2019.

Courtesy of Amber Carter

Then on Friday, she was getting lethargic. By dinner time, she could barely walk, so we took her to the hospital. All of her vital signs were good, but her body looked really blue and she was really cold. They put an electric blanket on her, and at some point a lady came in to start an IV, and Anna passed out. I started screaming for the doctor to come back. They took her to another room, and I called my deacon from the church, and I said, “Please get the priest down here. I think you need to give Anna her last rites. I called my husband and said, “You have to get off here. I think Anna is dying. People from all over the emergency department were on their knees and praying with me. My husband and I were just begging her to come back. Then they said she was gone.

They said to take our time, but I didn’t want to leave her there. It was the last time I kissed his face. I begged and asked if they could remove the tubes from her throat, so I could hug her, but they couldn’t because they were going to send her for an autopsy. I asked if I could have his things, and they said no, they had to come with him. My husband and I came home, and when the kids saw us through the window with our deacon, they knew.

I never really asked God, Why our child? Why us? Because why not us?

The hospital called and told us Anna had COVID, and they were pretty sure that was what happened to her body. They did x-rays, and it really damaged his lungs and just shut down his organs. The next day my family took a COVID test and all of us, even my toddler, were positive. It’s really hard to grieve and have COVID, because when you have trouble breathing, you don’t know if it’s grief or COVID. Our toddler also had a fever of 104 for days. We couldn’t break it, and I was so scared. We took him to the hospital, and the same doctor who was trying to save Anna’s life sat down and cried with us.

I never really asked God, Ohy our child? OWhy us ? Because why not us? Our family is no more special than anyone else. I don’t want anyone’s son to die. I don’t want anyone’s grandmother, father, uncle or aunt to die. And they didn’t have to, at least the numbers didn’t have to be as high as they are now.

Afterwards, I just wanted to know that there was someone else like me out there. Early 2021, I thought, I’m tired of looking. I want them to be able to find me, because if I was looking for support, so are they.. I wanted to start this support group to give parents a place to say the horrible things that come to mind.

Grieving for my daughter is by far the worst feeling I have ever felt in my life, mentally, and I have been through severe mental turmoil throughout my years. But waking up every day realizing that my child is not there and that I will never see her again, no matter how old your child is, is a really hard pill to swallow.

I also just started a group for teens, which my 19-year-old daughter helps run. Ultimately, with a tragedy like this, if you can’t find a meaningful purpose for their deaths, you could really get stuck. Besides these two Facebook support groups, my family also immediately started the process of creating a nonprofit for children with scleroderma and their siblings. We give scholarships directly to children which we award each year. Because we are a military family, we luckily have TRICARE, and Anna is buried in a national cemetery, so we didn’t have to pay much out of pocket. I have some amazing friends who started a GoFundMe, and it raised a lot of money, so we put that money into the foundation. This is where we found our purpose.

Anna Carter smiling and wearing a striped tank top

Courtesy of Amber Carter

I often feel like life is pretty black and white. Sometimes there are gray areas, but protecting others from COVID shouldn’t have been one of them. I’ve heard people tell me that my daughter didn’t die of COVID, and that I’m crazy, because it was definitely her autoimmune disease that killed her, when in fact her hope of life was well over 80 years. But when you’re grieving, anger is such an easy place to reach. If you ever want to find peace after the death of your loved one, you have to be able to forgive those people and move on.

It even put space between me and the paternal side of the family. It definitely made things a little more awkward between us, because I know their feelings about vaccination. I have no idea why this is political; It amazes me that people do it like that.

Going forward, I want people to be prepared for a medical crisis related to the long-term effects of COVID. I also want people to realize that we need a COVID task force; we need support for children who have lost their caregivers. We should also have a national memorial. We need something in the National Mall that says, “This happened to our country, and it can’t happen again.” They are people. These are not numbers or statistics. That their life counts for something.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Virginia S. Braud