Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

In Homes Left Empty By COVID-19, This Georgia Woman Packs Up The Memories


All right, we want to take you now to a community in rural southwest Georgia that has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. Dougherty County is home to nearly 90,000 residents, mostly African American. It's had one of the nation's highest rates of COVID-19. Over 1,730 people have tested positive for the virus. At least 140 people have died.


JEFF HULLINGER: A small community in south Georgia right now is a hotspot for COVID-19.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: We've learned the situation inside the hospital is becoming dire.

HULLINGER: It is a staggering number that we are seeing right now.

MICHAEL FOWLER: It just went like wildfire. It was just like a bomb hit here.

CATHY CODY: That's 10 large boxes. We got 20 more if we run out.

GREENE: So this is Cathy Cody. She lives in Albany, the biggest city in Dougherty County, Ga. And we are hearing her boxing up the belongings of a resident who died.

CODY: Right now I'm standing in a home we started on, packing up their loved one's belongings because that's all they have left.

GREENE: She is packing up everything left behind and hauling it all into storage. It's a glimpse, really, into the final days before the virus took a person's life.

CODY: You can see the - how the person was trying to just, I guess, maintain, just to come out of it. But they succumbed to the coronavirus.

GREENE: This is all part of Cathy's job now. She runs her own cleaning business. It's called No Ifs Ands Or Buts About It Janitorial Services & More, LLC. After the coronavirus outbreak began, she started hearing from clients who had lost family members. So she started this project to help out. She calls it Boxed with Love.

CODY: The families we have been assisting are people I know, people that we went to church with, people that we hugged and told we love and - so this is kind of - it's heartbreaking.


CODY: So listen - we are No Ifs, Ands Or Buts About It Janitorial Services & More, LLC. And we are out here on the front line, and we are currently taking appointments to assist you dealing with COVID-19.

GREENE: In videos she puts up on Instagram, Cathy is wearing one of those white protective suits, also a face mask and goggles. When she enters a home, she and her team use a fogger machine to spray this mist of disinfectant before they get started. Boxed with Love has become her vocation. And in nearly every one of her videos, she talks about the tragedy in her own life that inspired this work that she's doing now.


CODY: And it's in honor of the great Anthony Marquis Wright, my son who was murdered June 11, 2017. We wanted to definitely honor him.

GREENE: Yeah, three years ago, her son, 21-year-old Anthony Wright, was shot and killed when he tried to stop an attack on his sister outside an apartment complex. In the days and weeks after her son's murder, Cathy says packing up his closet was the hardest part.

CODY: I remember grabbing hold to his clothing, and I remember just screaming and crying to the top of my lungs, God, if you don't help me, I don't know what to do. And I remember waking up the next day in the living room, on the floor, on the pile of clothes that I had pulled out of the closet because that was it; it's all I had.

GREENE: And that trauma is what drives her today, the hope that she can take a little weight off families who are suffering through this pandemic, families like the Franklins.

TERI FRANKLIN: She eased a lot of the burden off of me. She's a godsend, honestly.

GREENE: This is Teri Franklin calling from Albany, Ga. She lost her mom, then also her dad to COVID-19.

FRANKLIN: Yeah. I was very close with my mom and dad. We talked every day. It wasn't a day that didn't go by that we didn't talk, I didn't hear my daddy's voice. And of course, I'm a daddy's girl. So I would have never thought that I would be burying my parents two weeks in between each other - married for 46 years.

GREENE: Marjorie Franklin was 66. Nathaniel Franklin was 65. And both of them died in the hospital. Teri says the moment she returned to her parents' house, she was surrounded by all these memories.

FRANKLIN: And when I walked in the house, I could smell my mom. I could smell my mom.

GREENE: Cathy Cody showed up to the Franklins' home with a stack of U-Haul boxes.

CODY: She was just a - beautiful home. Just, oh, my God. You can really see it in these houses, you know, the pictures, the people, their beautiful families and their life, what they've done, their accomplishments, their - you know, their certificates. And I got to see how she was a family woman, and she loved God. And, you know, she was a dresser. She loved clothes.

FRANKLIN: Yeah, Miss Cathy was packing clothes. She had packed up belts, hats, scarves. She took everything out of the drawers that's - which were my dad's ties and my mom's sewing room, sewing machines because my mom was a seamstress. My mom still had shoes that had never been out of the box. She packed everything up and put it in storage.


CODY: All right. So we have moved everything out of this building, and everything has been sprayed down. So, Lord, I thank you for work. This is No Ifs Ands Or Buts About It.

GREENE: As the state of Georgia has been reopening, there's still a lot of uncertainty about how many more lives might be lost and also whether the virus could make a comeback. Cathy Cody just wants families to know that she's still here.

CODY: Even in pandemics, there is hope. There is hope. And my God, there sure is God.


CODY: So I all right, my beauties...

GREENE: In a recent video, Cathy's backseat is full of empty boxes, ready for her next call.


CODY: We're on our way home now to get me some fresh fried fish out the grease and enjoy the rest of this day. So whatever it is you do, go all out for your people. It'll be worth it in the end. I promise you, everything you do, it matters.


GREENE: Cathy Cody of Albany, Ga., literally - literally - picking up the pieces after someone dies.

(SOUNDBITE OF OLA GJEILO'S "STILL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.