Three years ago, Lewis Kai was a different man. At that time, before he met his wife, Kai was involved in drugs and alcohol.
His wife, Christina James, said they met while she worked as a transport driver on the Navajo Nation. Although he was persistent, she told him she was uncomfortable because she had six kids.
So he promised to quit, and he kept that promise for their entire relationship.
“It kind of seemed like we picked each other up along the way,” she said.
Kai, Navajo, was from Pinon, Arizona, and had nine children with James, including Kai’s daughter, James’ six children and two who were adopted from her ex-husband’s family. Kai died from COVID-19 in May.
James said her husband was a devoted stay-at-home father. “He loved every minute of family time.”
He was also very protective and always reminded them to take care of themselves. And she appreciated his help doing the laundry, cooking and grocery shopping when she was working.
She said even when they needed superglue or duct tape, he had it. “He was just constantly watching over us.”
The couple were members of the Native American Church and bonded over Navajo traditional ceremonies. Their last trip together, before the novel coronavirus, was to a peyote garden in Mirando City, Texas.
“He always had prayers done for the kids and when things came up, he always wanted a prayer done right away,” James said.
She fondly remembers trying to sneak off with Kai from their children, and his sense of humor.
“He was forever making us laugh,” she said.
Then in early May, Kai's father got sick, and Kai stepped in to look after him.
About a week later, James said she, her 18-year-old daughter and Kai began experiencing virus symptoms, although they took serious precautions. The five other children were not exposed because they were staying with their grandmother.
“We were being careful. We weren’t even going anywhere. And I was only working from home,” James said.
After a while, James and their daughter started recovering. Kai also thought he was feeling better, but he soon began to cough. For three days, James urged her husband to go to Chinle Indian Health Services, until he finally did.
James said by the time he arrived, Kai’s breathing was very weak because he had dealt on and off with pneumonia for the past eight months.
“His lungs were probably already scarred up from the pneumonia from the month before,” she said.
The next day, Kai was flown to Scottsdale, Arizona. His family tried to stay in contact with him by texts and calls. Doctors would inform his wife that fluid was getting in his lungs and they needed to sedate him to loosen the fluids.
A few days later, on a Sunday morning, James was notified that Kai died after his kidneys shut down. He was 41 years old.
Family members were only allowed to view his body through a window at the hospital. The mortuary said they could not offer a funeral service and his burial would have limited contact.
Kai’s body would also be sealed within a metal casket to be transferred to the Navajo reservation.
“It just breaks my heart. But the thing is, they said immediate family is OK so I had all of my kids and grandkids and my mother-in-law and my father-in-law,” she said about his burial.
Her husband’s death and her personal experience with COVID-19 greatly affected her opinion of the virus. She said at one point she thought she wasn’t going to recover and could not handle being physically distanced from her children when they visited the sick family.
“Just even driving in front of the house, waving safely made me fight. I knew I had to fight,” she said.
James said before Kai was diagnosed and while he was in the hospital, they made plans to go fishing and kayaking with her younger brother. But despite Kai’s passing, James said they continue to plan on keeping their promise to get out of the house.
She said her family’s support is what’s keeping her going. And she emphasized that people need to talk with those who contact COVID-19 to learn how serious it is.
“It’s a dark place. It’s not like the flu,” James said. “It’s scary, and it’s real. I wish people would take more precautions.”
Read more Portraits from the Pandemic: https://indiancountrytoday.com/obituaries/