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'Wishing To God She Would Wake Up': North Carolina Nears 10,000 COVID-19 Deaths

Courtesy Michael Mayhew
Michael Mayhew and his mother, Pamela Mayhew. Pamela died of COVID-19 in April 2020.

Once Michael Mayhew starts talking about his late mother Pamela Mayhew, the stories just keep coming. Like the time his mom was getting ready to drive 8-year-old Michael to school and found an unwelcome surprise in their trash can.

pamela 3 (2).jpg
A young Pamela Mayhew

“She went to go put something in the garbage and it was a possum in there. She threw the lid up in the air and she ran so fast,” Michael said, laughing.

There was also the time that Pamela saved $5,000 for a down payment on a house in East Orange, New Jersey, after she and Michael’s father separated. She bought it by herself, Michael said, using money she made working at a factory.

Pamela Mayhew died from COVID-19 on April 15, 2020. She is one of thousands of North Carolinians who have died from the disease caused by the coronavirus. On Tuesday, the state is poised to hit another grim pandemic milestone: 10,000 COVID-19 deaths.

‘She’d Just Get To Movin'

Pamela Mayhew was born in northern New Jersey in 1951, the oldest girl of six. According to Michael, she was fiercely independent, even after an aneurysm left the right side of her body paralyzed. She moved into the Concord nursing home Five Oaks Manor in 2015.

“She was like a star there at Five Oaks. I mean, everybody loved my mother,” Michael said. “They watched her go from not being able to speak and walk to being able to kind of talk.”

Pamela also learned to wheel herself around in her wheelchair and rarely let others push her, Michael said. When she began to need diapers, according to Michael, she insisted on changing them herself.

Pamela Mayhew

Pamela’s independent streak was what brought the mother-son duo to North Carolina in 2005. Michael said his mom wanted to leave New Jersey, so she pointed to a random place on the map — Statesville — and they relocated.

Another of Michael’s favorite memories of his mom is the way she could “really get down” to her favorite disco, rap and R&B songs — even though she could only use the left side of her body.

“She would do the ‘Pammy Wammy’ dance. Close her eyes, poke her lips out and shake her shoulder,” Michael said.

One of Pamela’s favorites was 50 Cent.

“She loved that song, ‘You can find me in the club, bottle full of bub.’ When she put that song on, boy, she’d just get to movin,’” Michael said, laughing.

‘Wishing To God She Would Wake Up’

Michael Mayhew said he didn’t worry much about the coronavirus when he first heard about it but that changed when nursing homes started having outbreaks and barring outside visitors.

“I became extremely nervous and upset. I was like, ‘Man, I hope my mama’s okay,’” Michael said.

On April 5, 2020, at 7:30 p.m., staff at Pamela’s nursing home called Michael. Pamela had COVID-19.

“Now it was, as they say, closer to home. It was exactly home,” Michael said. “It was panic. I was just praying that she would pass it, that it would go in her system and just go away.”

Pamela’s health declined quickly. Michael couldn’t visit her because of coronavirus restrictions, but he constantly asked the nurses to let him talk to her using FaceTime. Pamela died on April 15.

“They (told me) not to touch her, but I couldn't help it," Michael said. "I kissed her forehead. I’m holding her hand. I’m just wishing to God she would wake up, and she couldn’t.”

The family could not have a funeral because of the pandemic. Pamela was cremated and Michael keeps her ashes in an urn, surrounded by pictures of her.

Copyright 2021 WFAE.  For more go to WFAE.org

Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literture and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. In her free time, Claire likes listening to podcasts and trying out new recipes.