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Life for thousands of American children orphaned by the pandemic forever changed

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Posted at 9:41 AM, Feb 07, 2023

Carla Hamilton always joked that she never wanted kids. However, her life is now surrounded by children.

In 2018, Carla’s sister Courtney died in a car accident. The kids’ father, Ken, took custody of their six children following the accident. Everything seemed normal until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In early 2020, Ken contracted the virus.

“He never came back to the house. He got COVID, he got quarantined and that’s the last they remember," Hamilton said.

Nearly three years later, Ken and Courtney’s children are among the estimated 220,000 who’ve lost a parent to COVID-19. Nearly 300,000 children lost a caregiver.

Technically, Hamilton's mom is the caregiver but she handles the kids' school enrollment, their appointments, their needs, along with those of her parents.

“A lot of people let hard times change them. You know, hurt and pain: you can see it on them for the rest of their life. They carry it. And we try not to. We try to be happy and positive and love and not dwell in hurt,” Hamilton said.

As a mindset, positivity drives her. In practice, it’s rarely easy. Hamilton left a relationship and beauty business to stay with the boys in Georgia. Her brother Curtis, who left his home and business in Florida, is also there to be another set of hands.

“I always say to them, like, ‘Whenever y’all want to remind me of your mom or dad, or whenever you feel down or something, you let me know. I got Facebook. I got pictures,” Curtis said.

They’re all there to cocoon the kids. At a time when mental health struggles among children are rising across the country, the grief and trauma of losing a parent to COVID-19 has added an entire wave of children balancing more than they’d ever imagined.

“I was sitting out there chilling, and the small one, Kobe, he came to me. He said, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘I just ain’t feeling it today.’ He patted me on my back, said, ‘Don’t worry. Momma’s gonna be all right,’” Curtis said.

When asked what it means to wrap them in love, Hamilton said, “It just means to let them know we’re here from them, and it’s OK. Whatever they feel, whatever they want to talk about, if they’re happy, mad, sad, that is OK.”