A Bakersfield family who lost four loved ones in one week, all of whom had recently battled COVID-19, is raising money to cover their funeral expenses as it tries to come to terms with the scale of its loss.
"It’s been such a rush of emotion. I haven’t been able to grieve at all. I got my moments when I was able to say goodbye to my mom, my dad, my brother, but now we have to raise money and get prepared for the funerals," said Melissa Salazar, 21.
Melissa lived with her parents, Jesus and Rosie Salazar, and her older half brother Ike Azevedo, a 53-year-old with Down syndrome, at her parents' southwest Bakersfield home. Between Jan. 3 and Jan. 9, Melissa's parents and half brother died. Jesus was 82 and Rosie was 77. Michael Azevedo, 76, Rosie's first husband and Ike's father, who had stayed close friends with his former wife and her second husband, also died.
The large, close-knit family includes six children born to Rosie and Michael Azevedo. When they divorced and Rosie married Jesus Salazar in 1998, the couple adopted Melissa as an infant. In addition to their children, Michael Azevedo and Rosie and Jesus Salazar had 16 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren, according to family members.
The family has jumped into action following their deaths, selling hot dogs and tri-tip sandwich meals and arranging a car wash that runs through Sunday at the corner of Wilson Road and Union Avenue to help cover funeral expenses. A GoFundMe account has also been started to raise funds for the funerals. One funeral already took place last week, which the family said has already been paid for, but they hope to cover expenses for the remaining three services with their efforts.
Family members described the three parents and son Ike as the center of the family's wide circle.
Ikie, as the brother was known, was beloved by his siblings and nieces and nephews, and was closest to his mother, who was his caretaker his entire life. The family said Ike loved Pepsi, riding his bike and listening to the oldies.
Jesus Salazar worked for 50 years at a cement plant in Frazier Park and was a fan of pro wrestling, Melissa said. He was also described as a loving stepfather and grandfather by his stepdaughter, Sabrina Azevedo.
Rosie spent years working at local carrot and pistachio processing facilities, and then worked for many years at Kmart. It was during her time at Kmart that a co-worker introduced her to Jesus, who would bring her red roses at work, said Melissa.
"They were a love story,” she said.
Michael Azevedo had worked as a truck driver and regaled friends and family with stories from his days on the road. He was a fun and caring grandfather, according to granddaughter Priscilla Rodriguez, who said he loved homemade tortillas and coffee.
"He meant the world to me," said Rodriguez, who was washing cars Friday afternoon to raise money for the funerals. She recalled how despite their divorce, Michael remained friends with Rosie and her new husband. With a laugh and tears in her eyes, she said he would jokingly tell her he loved Jesus more than her grandmother.
Melissa Salazar said her mother would often worry about who would care for Ike after she died, and in sobering moments even confided to her daughter that she felt it better if her son died before her. So despite the grief and heavy toll on the family, there is comfort in knowing they are all together in heaven, Melissa said.
"I think it was God. I think my dad called my mom and my brother," she said of Jesus, who was the first to die.
How the family contracted COVID-19 is unclear. The elderly parents took precautions and stayed in most of the time, family members said. Melissa Salazar said she did most of the grocery shopping and errands. However, Ike had become ill and there were several trips to the emergency room to seek treatment, said Teresa Fuentes, one of the grandchildren. He was eventually found to have a blood clot in his leg and a stomach infection, she said. And then he came down with the virus.
She wonders if he contracted the virus during those trips for medical care.
"To me you can be as (conscientious) as you can, you can follow all the rules but you can still get it," Teresa Fuentes said. "I hope and pray that it doesn’t get to any of us, or that other people have to feel this pain."
All four family members were hospitalized at various points over the past month. Jesus died at home on hospice care while still positive for the virus on Jan. 3, said Melissa.
At that time, Ike was at a rehabilitation center recovering from his hospitalization and Rosie was still in the hospital but both arrived home on hospice care within days of Jesus’ death.
Their two beds were pushed together and mother and son held hands for the remaining hours they had together, Melissa said.
On Jan. 8, Ike Azevedo died, and his mother, Rosie, died the next day.
Ike's father Michael Azevedo also died on Jan. 9 at the hospital while fighting the virus, the family said.
Rosie had two plots at Greenlawn Cemetery, but with four deaths it was decided that mother and son would be buried next to each other and the two fathers would be cremated, the family said.
"My mom was Ikie’s best friend. That was her baby," Melissa said.
A service for Jesus Salazar took place Wednesday. A funeral for Michael Azevedo, Rosie and Ike will held Jan. 29 on what would have been Ike's 54th birthday.