Sen. Elizabeth Warren said watching her oldest brother die from a distance after contracting COVID-19 was something she will never get over.
In an interview excerpt published by The Atlantic, the Massachusetts Democrat discussed the pain and anxiety of losing Donald Reed Herring, 86, to the coronavirus, an experience shared by the loved ones of the nearly 90,000 people in the U.S., and more than 315,000 around the world, who have died in the pandemic.
"It just feels like something that didn’t have to happen," Warren said of Herring's death on April 21 in a Norman, Oklahoma, hospital. Herring overcame pneumonia in February and contracted the coronavirus at an inpatient facility where a doctor had sent him for rehabilitation.
"Pneumonia really takes it out of you. And, you know, he’s old. And so he went to the rehab and was ready to go home," Warren told The Atlantic. "He was packed up and ready to go home when somebody tested positive, and they wouldn’t let him leave. And I called him every day for 11 days, and every day he would say, 'I’m just fine. In fact, he said, 'I think I probably had it before and I’m just too tough and didn’t even notice.'
"And then he got sick, and then he died, by himself. That’s the hard part – really hard part. It’s hard to process things like this because everything is happening at a distance. And human beings – we’re not set up for that. We’re wired to be with each other. It makes it hard," she said.
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Herring was a B-47 and B-52 bomber pilot who flew 288 combat missions in Vietnam, according to The Boston Globe. After 20 years in the Air Force, he retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1973 before opening an auto-detailing business.
Warren often mentioned her brothers during her presidential run and featured them in a campaign video. Warren has called for an investigation into President Donald Trump's handling of the pandemic, saying he "misled the public from the start." Warren is a contender to be Democratic nominee Joe Biden's running mate and has said she would be happy to join his ticket if asked.
When Warren lost her parents and a beloved aunt she said it was different because she and the rest of her family were able to be with them. "And we shared memories; we grieved together."
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"I remember thinking I couldn’t breathe," she said of learning he had tested positive for COVID-19. She said they spoke on the phone every day for 11 days and Herring would tell her he felt fine. But one day he did not answer and she learned he had been taken to the emergency room.
"In any other state of the world, I would have been there with him. We all would have been there with him. And instead he was by himself," Warren said. "I just kept imagining what’s happening to him. Is he afraid? Is he cold? I kept thinking about whether he was cold. There’s no one there to talk to him while he waits for the doctor. There’s no one there to be with him while he receives the news."
She said that after he was placed in intensive care, she would get updates on his condition from the nurses and her other two brothers.
"It’s not the same. You need to touch people. We have to hug; we have to be with each other," she said.
"It’s always hard to lose someone you love. But to lose someone when you have to wonder: What were their last days like? Were they afraid? Were they cold? Were they lonely? That is a kind of grief that is new to all of us. And my brothers won’t get over this. They just won’t. None of us will."
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