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After losing parents to COVID-19, one woman is healing through travel

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Iyanna Abrams visits the grave of her father, Elisha Abrams, at Riverside Cemetery. Iyanna lost her mother and father at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and was ill herself with the disease. She is trying to cope with the loss by traveling around the world.

When Iyanna Abrams was just 7, she traveled to Alabama with her dad, Elisha Abrams.

Her most vivid memory from that trip was the two of them standing together as she stared in awe of a mural of Muhammed Ali.

“He was like, ‘If you think that's something, there’s a huge world out here, and that's nothing compared to what you can see. So, make sure you see it,’” Abrams said as she reminisced about all the travel memories she had with her father.

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Iyanna Abrams
From left, Elisha Abrams Jr., Ruth Brockington, and Iyanna Abrams.

She said they would take road trips at least eight times a year, and when they returned home, they would tell Abram’s mom, Ruthie, all about it.

“She didn't travel, but when I came back, she wanted to know everything about it,” Abrams said.

In the years since that first trip to Alabama, Abrams has become an avid traveler -- visiting over 50 countries, including Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines and most recently, Turkey. But all that changed when she and both her parents got COVID-19 last year.

“There were days where I just felt like I was just dying,” Abrams said. “I would call my brother and say, ‘I don't think I'm going to make it through the day.’”

Throughout her own battle with the disease, her parents’ conditions worsened. Her dad struggled to breathe and ended up in the intensive care unit.

“The doctors called me and told me that they had to move him on a ventilator, and I'm like, ‘A ventilator for what?’ They said because we need to let his heart and his lungs rest," Abrams said.

Despite those efforts, her father succumbed to the illness on April 14, 2020.

Iyanna Abrams visits the grave of her father, Elisha Abrams, at Riverside Cemetery.

As she grieved her father, Abrams started recovering from COVID, and for a while, it seemed like her mother would, too. But on Jan. 7, 2021, Ruth Brockington died from complications exacerbated by the disease.

“I won't say that she gave up, but your body is never the same when you have it severely,” Abrams said.

Now she wears a pendant that contains some of her mother’s ashes, and she visits the Riverside Cemetery on Lake Avenue at least once a month to talk to her dad.

“You're not here in the physical with me, but like spirit-wise, I feel closer to him while I'm here,” Abrams told her father during a recent visit.

Surviving loss and grief during COVID

Iyanna Abrams, who lost her mother and father to COVID-19, is mourning their loss in many ways. She visits her father's grave as part of her grieving process, but she also has a less typical coping tool: Travel. VIDEO BY MAX SCHULTE/WXXI NEWS

Abrams, who said she was a daddy’s girl, said these visits strengthen their bond. One of the things she likes to tell him about is her future plans.

Not too long ago, she told him about her plans to take a trip this month to West Africa.

“Just to see something new is so relaxing and so refreshing for me,” Abrams said.

This time around, though, the trip isn’t just for personal fulfillment. She’s also honoring the memories of her parents, and grieving them.

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Iyanna Abrams
Iyanna Abrams is pictured in Turkey wearing custom Turkish clothing in the summer of 2021.

“I'm taking my mom’s ashes with me, and I'm sprinkling them around the world everywhere that I go,” Abrams said.

As of Monday, she was in France hoping that the new omicron variant of the coronavirus wouldn’t restrict her from visiting the African countries.

Since March 2020, the United States has lost hundreds of thousands of people to COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts there will be more than 800,000 deaths in the U.S. by the end of 2021.

The process of grieving those losses will be different for everyone. For Abrams, it means experiencing new things, visiting new places, and finding her happiness. She encourages people in her position to do the same – in their own way.

“I definitely say get out, talk to people, do something that you enjoy, or find new hobbies, find new things to do,” Abrams said.