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Cincinnati's COVID-19 casualties include first-grade teacher, nurse who held dying patients' hands

Their families are mourning while pandemic rages
Posted at 6:22 PM, Dec 10, 2020

CINCINNATI — Emily Gordon could never resist a poinsettia at Christmastime. Her only child, Tamara Lang, remembers that clearly. She loved teaching, too; their small, close-knit Kennedy Heights family was complemented for 37 years by a far-reaching community of students and friends at John Pead Parker Elementary.

“She loved first grade,” Lang said Thursday night. “She always believed that was the most important grade because that’s when most truly children learn how to read, and reading is what would take you through the rest of your life. That was a big thing with her.”

Lang’s last memory of Gordon is of visiting her assisted living facility and knowing she would soon die of COVID-19. Lang wondered, in that moment, if her mother recognized her through her mask and PPE.

Gordon died in the fall. She was 86 years old.

More than 7,000 Ohio families — 392 in Hamilton County alone— will spend the holiday season mourning a loved one. Thousands more will spend it with a relative hospitalized and unable to see them.

RELATED: Hamilton County health director: Hospitals are getting too full to handle a Christmas surge

Matt Moeddel, who died in May, would have been among the health care staff treating and comforting COVID-19 patients through the winter.

He was the director of nursing at the assisted living facility Bridgeway Pointe in Arlington Heights, where residents began contracting COVID-19 in the spring.

“Matt was just the most compassionate,” his sister, Bethany Moeddel, said Thursday.

At the time of his death, he had recently moved into a new townhome and adopted a dog. His sister said he gave everything he had to his patients, holding their hands and keeping them company during their illness.

“He ended up passing alone, which is awful,” Bethany Moeddel said. “But he always said, ‘Nobody wants to die alone,’ so all of his patients, he made sure they were not alone.”

She struggled to find any Christmas spirit in the wake of her brother’s death, she added.

“I wasn't even going to put up a tree,” she said. “My mom was like, ‘You know, it's Matt's favorite holiday.’”

She’ll spend the winter with Matt on her mind.

MORE ABOUT MATT: Local nurse paid ultimate price so COVID-19 patients didn't die alone

Tamara Lang, celebrating without her mother for the first time, said she’s doing her best to remember her mother’s love of Christmas, her devotion to her family and her feisty personality.

“(In the assisted living facility), she was walking, talking, always letting the staff there know whether or not she thought their outfit was appropriate, as only she could,” Lang said. “
What made you choose that sweater today? Not sure that’s a good color on you.’ Very, very honest. The staff loved it. They were wonderful.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday urged Ohioans to stay home for the holidays, acknowledging in the process that doing so would be bittersweet. Health experts joined his call to plead for mask-wearing, social distancing and remote holiday celebrations as hospitals struggle to handle their current load of COVID-19 cases.

“We cannot afford, on the very eve of a safe and effective vaccination, to further overwhelm our hospitals and health care providers with a holiday tsunami,” DeWine said.