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Remembering husband, father and dinosaur fanatic Chris Gegwich, who died from COVID

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Over the last two years, we have been remembering some of the nearly 1 million people who have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. - people like Chris Gegwich. Chris lived in Long Island with his wife Michele and their two sons Nate and Quin. Michele says one of the things she loved most about Chris was his mind.

MICHELE GEGWICH: Brilliant. Chris was brilliant, a very accomplished attorney and also loved ska music.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES SONG, "THE IMPRESSION THAT I GET")

GEGWICH: I remember being at concerts with him, and you could just find him. He was giant. He was six-four, probably 300 pounds, always looked nice, so handsome but a big teddy bear because he wasn't a tough guy. He was kind.

KELSEY SNELL, HOST:

In addition to being a ska superfan, Michele says Chris was a voracious reader who had a vast depth of knowledge across a wide range of subjects. But his favorite thing in the world was dinosaurs.

GEGWICH: He had an extensive, extensive dinosaur collection, thousands and thousands. He had fossils. We would go to the Museum of Natural History.

CHANG: As a father, Chris made sure to share his endless curiosity with his sons.

GEGWICH: He instilled in them this childlike wonderment to see what else is out there. He had high expectations, and I think it really taught the boys that sense of discipline and the importance of taking pride in what you do.

SNELL: In mid-March 2020, Chris fell ill with COVID while on vacation with his brothers in Key West. Unable to fly home, Chris and his brothers decided to drive. After they got back to New Jersey, Michele took Chris to the doctor, then the hospital.

GEGWICH: So I pulled up at the circle at Huntington Hospital and dropped him off because we weren't allowed to go in with him. So that was the last time I was with him when he was conscious.

CHANG: Chris' condition continued to worsen, and after nearly a month in the hospital, a nurse called Michele and urged her to come as soon as possible.

GEGWICH: By the time I got to the hospital, he had already passed away. But they let me go in with him, and I got to stay with him for a few hours just trying to wrap my head around the fact that he was 50 and he was gone.

SNELL: Michele says that losing Chris left her heartbroken, and the ongoing pandemic has only made the loss harder.

GEGWICH: The most challenging part of losing a loved one to COVID is that it's all that's in the news, right? So now for two years, we can't get a break.

CHANG: Still, Michele says she does appreciate it when people acknowledge and validate her grief.

GEGWICH: It's not linear. There's going to be hard days and not-hard days. And give people space to say, do you want to talk about Chris? And then just listen - right? - because you can't fix it. You can't wish it away. It's just holding space.

SNELL: Chris Gegwich - attorney, ska lover, dinosaur fanatic, husband and father - died on April 10, 2020. He was 50 years old. To honor his memory, his family created the Christopher Gegwich Foundation, which supports academic scholarships at institutions important to Chris and his family.

CHANG: If you would like us to memorialize a loved one you have lost to COVID-19, find us on Twitter at @NPRATC. There's a pinned tweet at the top of the page.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW'S IT GOING TO BE")

THIRD EYE BLIND: (Singing) I wonder, what are we fighting for? When I say out loud I want to get out of this... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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