Fil-Am father, 38, who died of COVID-19 laid to rest

Jorel Alfonso (left) with his wife Ashling and their three children ages 12, 10 and 5. | Photo courtesy of the Alfonso family

A Filipino American father of three from the Inland Empire was laid to rest on Wednesday, April 15, a week after succumbing to complications related to the novel coronavirus.

Jorel Alfonso, 38, died of COVID-19 on April 7, according to his family. A resident of Eastvale in Riverside County, he is survived by his wife Ashling and their three young children ages 12, 10 and 5.

With social distancing measures still in place, families around the country have been prevented from organizing proper ceremonies for their departed loved ones.

Only one individual could attend Alfonso’s burial so the family selected his younger brother, Justin.

“This is the hardest time in my life, despite experiencing some of the darkest days in the past,” Justin Alfonso told the Asian Journal in a phone interview. “Nobody should ever have to see their sibling get buried.”

Despite their five-year age difference, Justin said they bonded over cars, fantasy basketball, and collecting sneakers. He regarded his older brother as his confidant and the “closest person” in his life aside from his wife. Before stay-at-home orders hit Southern California, Alfonso was the best man at Justin’s wedding in February.

Justin Alfonso (right) remembers his older brother Jorel as his confidant and best man. | Photo courtesy of Alfonso family

“I always looked up to my brother and would emulate his personality growing up,” Justin said. “But as I got older, I started seeing that he wanted to hang out, be my friend and even learn from me and we started becoming each other.”

Alfonso’s immediate family and select friends held an in-person private viewing on Tuesday, and then live-streamed a ceremony with prayers and eulogies. Later in the evening, dozens joined a virtual memorial service on Zoom.

The Fil-Am father first reported that he had a fever on March 18 and self-isolated at home. It then became a cough and mild shortness of breath, but he still told family members that he felt fine and maintained a positive mindset that he could beat the virus.

Six days later following his doctor’s order, Alfonso drove himself to Kaiser Riverside and thought he would still be able to go home that same day. He ended up being kept overnight for further examination and the next morning, he texted his family the result of the test by saying, “positive” for COVID-19. He was shortly sedated and intubated.

That led Justin to begin thinking of a contingency plan to take in his nephews and niece if his sister-in-law also got sick. They all tested negative.

“I was worried one of the kids would get it and then that would be another issue,” he said. “You think the worst is your brother getting it? No, the worst is a whole family getting it.”

For the next two weeks, the older Alfonso stayed in the hospital and couldn’t be visited by his family. He showed some progress as hospital staff said he was on the road to recovery.

However, Alfonso, who was borderline pre-diabetic, had a drop in blood pressure and his organs began to fail. About four hours later on April 7, the family was notified of his death, Justin said.

“We didn’t really get to say goodbye because my brother was confident that he would see us again,” the younger Alfonso said, adding that when he picked up his brother’s car from the hospital a few days ago, “He still had food in there. He didn’t think he was going to have to be there for a long time.”

Alfonso, who grew up in Long Beach, settled in Eastvale in his adult years and established his young family there. He was a logistics and operations manager for a pharmaceutical company in Orange County for almost two decades.

He was an active member of his local community, from a food group that would try new local restaurants to the neighborhood crime watch. Over the years, he would volunteer to take photos for families during Christmastime.

Jorel Alfonso (far right) is survived by his wife Ashling, three children, sister Jennifer (3rd from left) and her family, parents Jessie and Lydia, and younger brother Justin and sister-in-law Cherrie. | Photo courtesy of Alfonso family

Thousands of condolences and memories have been shared on social media by friends and those who had a chance to cross paths with Alfonso. Many recalled his warmth and ability to connect with others.

“What has helped me and my parents the most has been people sharing their stories,” Justin said. “It can be hard listening sometimes because I think about him, but the positive stories have made me laugh and smile. I love hearing how he was helpful and impactful in other people’s lives.”

A GoFundMe page for his children’s education and other necessities has raised over $83,000 to date. A Meal Train has also been set up to deliver meals to their home through April.

In addition to his wife, three children and younger brother, Alfonso is survived by his parents, Jessie and Lydia, and sister Jennifer.

The family wishes to focus on the lighthearted stories and memories of Alfonso, but they also want his case to be a wake-up call that COVID-19 does not discriminate based on age or ethnicity and that the 1.5% mortality rate should not be taken lightly.

“All it takes is that 1.5% chance and it could be you or your family who are affected,” Justin said. “So if I could go back and say, ‘Are we taking the smallest chance?’ The answer’s no. It’s not worth risking your life by going to a friend’s house or the grocery store. The conversation going on in every community and household is that if we get it, we’d be okay. That’s not true because my brother died. Don’t wait until you’re that 1.5%.”

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Editor’s note: The Asian Journal is working to document those of Filipino descent who have lost their lives because of the coronavirus in the United States. If you know of someone or would like to offer a remembrance of someone who has died of COVID-19, please tell us about them by emailing [email protected] with the subject line “Remembering Lives Lost.”

Christina M. Oriel

Christina M. Oriel is an award-winning editor and communications strategist based in Los Angeles with experience in content, strategy and branding for media ecosystems, inclusive fintech startups, small businesses and direct-to-consumer products.

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