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“Apologies are not meant to change the past, they are meant to change the future.”
I remembered this quote on Tuesday when I returned home with my husband Sean after meeting New York Governor Kathy Hochul. We were invited to the meeting after the governor saw us at a rally outside his Manhattan office a few weeks ago as we championed the cause of the loved ones we lost to COVID last spring. in separate long-term care facilities.
It was a small, closed-door meeting. No photos were taken inside the office. It was just a time to finally speak up and be heard.
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It was the first time that our family had been recognized by the governor’s office. As she walked in and shook hands with us, she offered her condolences.
I thanked her for taking the time to sit down with us and find out why we have been fighting for all these months.
Without any of us knowing, on March 25, 2020, former Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order admitting more than 9,000 COVID-positive patients to nursing homes in New York City for 46 days. Even Cuomo knew it would endanger our elders when he warned as a precaution that the virus “would spread like fire through the dry grass.”
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It is still a mystery to us why he and his health unit decided to light the match.
Instead of being honest and admitting it was a terrible decision, Cuomo lied, denied, blamed others while hiding the death toll. While he could have met families or expressed his condolences, the governor decided it was more important to celebrate himself by writing a book and winning an Emmy.
As grieving family members, many of us wanted some kind of recognition for our pain and grief. Instead, we were accused of playing politics to want to know why our loved ones were in grave danger.
My good friend and fellow New York State advocate Ron Kim, who lost his uncle to COVID at a nursing home, is helping organize the session.
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I am very grateful for his kindness and leadership throughout it all. Tuesday’s meeting would never have happened without him.
Governor Hochul was empathetic and generous with his time. She wanted to hear from all of us and listened to our thoughts and concerns on how we can finally begin the healing process and the way forward to help ensure that this does not happen again.
My husband Sean, who is a very private person, has a hard time talking about his loss. He was able to explain to her how painful it was to lose both parents in such a short time without being able to see or comfort them.
He told her how he brought flowers to his mother a few days after his father died, but couldn’t hug her. He was standing six feet in the hall of his assisted living, telling her to hang on. We would get out of it.
It was the last time he saw her before she fell ill and died.
Seeing my husband sharing this with the governor brought me back to what it was a year and a half ago. Shock, confusion, and grief washed over me so hard I could barely catch my breath.
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I cried as I listened to my friends Peter and Daniel Arbeeny talk about their father Norman, asking them if his death counted in Governor Cuomo’s number laundering.
Haydee Pabey and Alexa Rivera showed Governor Hochul photos of their mothers Elba and Ana while sharing their tragic stories.
Governor Hochul says that in the future his administration will become transparent. She gave us her word that her administration would work with us.
She looked us in the eye and thanked us for being strong and relentless advocates.
Cuomo wanted everyone to believe it was politics. It never has been. There were no Democrats or Republicans in this room pouring out their hearts.
They were human beings eager to help and listen to those who were suffering.
I left the meeting with a glimmer of hope. This is something I haven’t had for a long time.
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But, Governor Hochul’s actions in the days to come will speak louder than words.
An apology won’t bring our loved ones back, but it may well change the way things are done in the future to protect other families in the future.
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