Shane Hale: a guiding light for UNC-CH student veterans

By Tim Morgan

Shane Hale looks like any other staff member on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus. He’s well groomed, dresses in business casual and has a calm demeanor. He can be identified, however, by his camouflage Tar Heel cap, an accessory he wears almost everyday, representing his love and appreciation for UNC-CH and its student veterans.  

While he may look like your average employee, Hale is anything but ordinary, and his achievements over the last decade at UNC-CH prove that. 

Setting his sights on Chapel Hill

Originally from Oxford, Mississippi, Hale grew up in a household with little money. He realized early on that academics are important, and he wanted to be the first in his family to graduate college.

Hale was quickly drawn to the university after first hearing about the campus from a friend and UNC-CH graduate. He received an undergraduate bulletin in the mail, now referred to as the undergraduate catalog, and read it cover to cover.

“I fell in love with its mission, the diversity, the classes, all the different majors,” Hale said. “I could tell immediately that UNC-CH was the place for me.” 

But there was a problem standing in his way: Hale couldn’t afford college. 

“I was ignorant about things like financial aid or how all that worked,” Hale said. “I just knew that I’m poor and I need a way to pay for college.”

With UNC-CH in the back of his mind, Hale enlisted in the U.S. Army. 

From front lines to campus grounds

Hale started his first day of basic training during the early hours of September 11, 2001. 

“I joined in peacetime, and my mindset immediately changed on that day. It became real,” Hale said. “This isn’t a passive thing anymore to get money for college. This is wartime, which wasn’t what I was expecting, but I was ready; really the whole country was.”

Hale served in the Army for five and a half years, deploying twice to Iraq. The entirety of the experience was transformational for him.

“The amount of growth and maturing that took place throughout that time was impressive,” Hale said. “Personality, world outlook, everything changed for the better.”

When his service was complete, Hale continued onward toward the place that occupied his mind all along: UNC-CH. But he’d need to make another pit stop along the way. 

“I knew I wasn’t going to be super competitive, so I decided to start out at community college, really take it serious and then try to get accepted as a transfer.”

That move paid off, as Hale was accepted to UNC-CH in 2009. 

The reality of Hale’s college experience, however, was different from the life he had thought up in his head. The transition from serving in the military to receiving a higher education proved to be more difficult than he could’ve imagined, and that’s when Hale found himself in an identity crisis. 

“The military really gave me a purpose that I didn’t have, and to lose that was hard,” Hale said. “I was looking for that new purpose and felt isolated being the ‘creepy old guy’ in class. The Iraq War wasn’t all that popular either, so on campus, if students found out you were a veteran, you could sometimes be the target of microaggressions. It was hard to fit in. I think I only knew one other veteran on campus.”

Ironically, Hale’s undergraduate experience as a veteran led him to a new purpose: helping other veterans navigate higher education and feel connected to the community at UNC-CH. 

Improving the landscape for veterans

After graduating in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Archaeology, Hale worked as a purchasing assistant at Davis Library. During this time, he found another job at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, primarily working with transfer students. 

“I really loved helping students from diverse backgrounds coming from community college, and that’s what really jumpstarted me to where I am now.”

While working in these positions, Hale was also becoming a community leader for veterans at UNC-CH. 

He helped establish the Carolina Veterans Organization, a student-run organization that aims to provide veterans and military-affiliated students with resources and support to help them navigate their transition into higher education. 

One of his most recognizable impacts at UNC-CH is the role he played in creating the Carolina Veterans Resource Center on South Campus. The center, which officially opened in September of 2017, is a space built solely for veterans to connect and spend their time. Now, Hale is a program coordinator at the center.   

Arguably, Hale’s true legacy lies in the establishment of the “Boot Print to Heel Print” program. At zero cost to the student, this year-long program seeks to acclimatize veterans to the campus and other opportunities at UNC-CH, while providing tools, assistance and events for new student veterans to maximize their potential at the university and in the workforce. 

“I don’t want veterans coming here to have to go through what I went through,” Hale said. “It’s a difficult process and veterans have unique needs, so anything we can do to help them out is just going to increase their likelihood of succeeding while they’re here.” 

Almost all of UNC-CH’s approximately 400 undergraduate veterans have interacted with Hale at some point in their career at UNC-CH. Although Hale may be too humble to admit it, he has become the epicenter for all things veteran-related on campus, and many students credit him for their success.

“Shane has often been the first smiling face that people considering Carolina see, and the last congratulatory face when a student graduates,” said Shane O’Neill, a U.S. Army veteran and UNC-CH School of Law graduate. “I am hard pressed to consider that there is someone out there who is more passionate about Carolina, student veterans and supporting people than Shane Hale.” 

Eric Crawford, an Army Special Forces Veteran and pre-med student, is also grateful for Hale’s commitment to helping guide student veterans. 

“He helped me out every step of the way since I’ve been at UNC-CH,” Crawford said. “He is always willing to take the time to help out veterans, day or night. My son is actually a huge UNC fan now as Shane helped get him some free tickets to one of the football games. Shane is beyond an advocate.”

Jonathan Waddell, an Air Force veteran and journalism student, credits Hale as one of his reasons for not dropping out. 

“I was having issues during one of my semesters due to some post-traumatic stress relapses and was overwhelmed,” Waddell said. “I reached out to Shane and that same day he was able to help me get a medical waiver for one of my classes and also helped me push through that semester. If it wasn’t for him, I likely would’ve dropped out.”

Moving forward

Unfortunately for current students, the grant which facilitated Hale’s title as program coordinator for the Carolina Veterans Resource Center has not been renewed, meaning that Hale’s role is coming to an end this semester. 

“I knew coming into this position that it was going to be a limited time,” Hale said. “I began working on a master’s degree with hopes that something would open up, but the stars just didn’t align.” 

Hale hopes to take what he has done at UNC-CH and implement similar programs in universities that lack resources for veteran students.

“I love UNC-CH, but what I really love is working with student veterans, so as long as I can do that, it will be fine,” Hale said. “That’s what drives me, both professionally and personally; seeing that community succeed.”

Wherever Hale ends up will be changed for the better, just like UNC-CH. And if there’s anything more obvious than the lasting impact he’ll leave behind, it’s that he will undoubtedly be missed. 


Edited by Alex Berenfeld


UNC Chapel Hill’s comedy club turns students into professional entertainers

By Christian Avy

As the lights turn on, all that’s on stage is a dry erase board with an altered Cubs logo, and a few chairs. As the electrifying guitar strums and the snare drum beats, the English music band, The Go! Team’s Junior Kickstart begin to permeate the room. All of a sudden, blue-shirted students come running through the aisles and onto the stage. One by one, their names and numbers are called over the loudspeaker, and they are introduced with an enthusiastic crowd similar to one seeing the mid-90s Chicago Bulls for the first time.

“Number 57, Matt Caaaahilllll! Number 29, Bridget MacPherrrrrsoonnnnn! Number 867-5309…”

This is the introduction guests are treated to when attending a Chapel Hill Players, better known as CHiPs, improv comedy show.


Founded in 1995, CHiPs describes itself as UNC’s premier improv and sketch comedy group, and in a typical year, puts on three shows per semester. Each show has its own theme used primarily for promotional material and is incorporated into a sketch or two. For example, the most recent show CHiPs was able to put on in early 2020, had a “murder mystery” theme, and featured a sketch that portrayed Dora the Explorer, guiding the audience through her blood-splattered backyard.

Most of the current members of CHiPs had little-to-no experience with improv before they joined. Many of them didn’t even have acting experience. What resulted was an eclectic bunch of “comedians,” “actors,” and people whose friends told them that they were funny.

“I have always loved comedy but I never have really thought of myself as a funny person,” Sally Kate Buckles, a junior in CHiPs, said. “I had the passion for it, but I didn’t know if I had the talent or the ability. Luckily whoever was on CHiPs at the time saw that in me, because I had no acting experience except for when I did The Wizard of Oz when I was like, eight years old.”

The process of joining the organization takes place over a couple of days of auditions and callbacks, but the most memorable is always the first night.


“The way auditions work is that we just kind of throw you in the deep end,” said Bridget MacPherson, the group’s director. “You get up with a random person and then you both do a scene with a one word suggestion.”

Jamie Krantz, MacPherson’s partner for the audition, said their suggestion was simple: Papaya.

“I remember acting as an ancient wise woman and explaining the importance of this papaya to some teenager who wasn’t really having it,” said Krantz. “She didn’t want to listen to this crazy old woman who talking about the importance of papaya.”

The idea may seem random, but MacPherson says it allows CHiPs to look for certain qualities that they want in their new recruits.

“Now I know they really just look for humor and teamwork,” she explained. “You don’t have to be super funny. You don’t have to be perfect at what you’re doing. It doesn’t have to make sense or be super entertaining the first time. It’s just to kind of see where you’re at.”

Once the auditionees have been filtered through and vetted, the survivors are placed on Incs or the Incubator Team- a smaller, typically younger group that acts as a training ground for future CHiPs.

While on Incs, the new members meet separately from the main CHiPs group and receive coaching from two current CHiPs throughout the semester, building up to one final show.

Many current CHiPs look back at their times on the Incs team fondly, despite the divide between it and the main group.

“I learned so many new strategies for improvisation and fun new games,” said Krantz, who is now in her second semester as the Incs coach. “I remember always coming back from a practice feeling like I did an ab workout because I was laughing so hard.”

At the start of each semester, the Incs go through a new audition process, this time, to determine whether they will be brought up to the main CHiPs squad, or if they will stay with the Incs for another semester.

The induction into CHiPs involves a top-secret tradition, one that none of the members would reveal, no matter how hard they were pressed on the subject.


However, the group has many other traditions they could discuss, including one prank they play on incoming Incs, where they include the name of a fake student who auditioned, yet never returned, on every first callback post. The name never makes it past the second callback, but every year, it trips up unsuspecting newcomers.

“It got me so bad,” said Matt Cahill, a senior CHiP. “I thought that the name was actually one of the people who auditioned, and I was thinking: ‘Dude, this guy sucks. Why is he being let in? I don’t want to be a part of this if he’s on the team.’”

When they get into the main group, the CHiPs get to participate in and write sketches for the two main shows, and can become one of several positions, such as treasurer, artistic chair, or Incs coach.

Though the public usually only gets to see the group in the shows they put on, and the personalities they portray during their sketches and games, a look behind the curtain shows a tight knit cast of characters who cherish the camaraderie they’ve found through comedy.

“It’s one of those things where you just go and you’re kind of delirious from 8 to 10 p.m. in the Student Union,” said Buckles. “When you walk in everyone’s got Alpine Bagels with them and for the first hour of practice, everybody takes turns telling everything about their life since we’ve last checked in. It makes you so much better at connecting with people when you’re on stage with them, because you can better understand their emotions and read them.”

So, what is CHiPs all about? If you ask them, they’ll tell you it’s about improv.

If you ask them again, they’ll tell you it’s truly about the community that they have formed.

“It’s just so awesome to be able to share improv with people,” MacPherson said. “A lot of whom, much like me, have no idea what they’re doing at the outset. [Those] who come on a whim and never did theater or thought they’re funny. To teach them, and show them that they can be the funniest person in the room, is just so awesome.”

Edited by Modupe Fabilola


After a rare medical condition, Taylor Bennett will rise again

By Edward Trentzsch


Loud pop music blasts down the hallway outside Taylor Bennett’s Chapel Hill apartment.

Bennett, 19, does not care about the numerous noise complaints she has received in the five months since moving in. Not one of her angry neighbors understands.

Inside the apartment, Bennett is soaked in sweat. She pushes her coffee table to one side of the living room transforming the diminutive space into a full-blown dance studio.

Bennett dances as if every movement could be her last. Her whole body shifts in fluid motion from the lightning-fast movements of her feet to the smile quickly spreading across her face.

As the music nears its grand finale, Bennett increases the intensity of her dance. She refuses to let the music leave her behind. Her rapid steps stand in stark contrast to the nightmare she lived through five years ago when she was diagnosed with a rare medical condition.

With the music still blaring, Bennett dances the night away on legs that remind her of both the past and present.


A passion for dance


Bennett grew up in Cornelius, NC, in a large house near Lake Norman. She poured her whole childhood into gymnastics until a friend invited her to a dance camp when she was 8.

Every camper wore bright costumes and danced with the type of freedom only a child could muster. Bennett became hooked.

After returning home, she quit gymnastics and never looked back.

“I had never danced before in my life, but I immediately fell in love with it,” Bennett said.

Dancing took on greater importance as Bennett grew older. At the age of 14, she averaged around 20 hours of practice each week.

One day while practicing for an upcoming competition, Bennett felt a sharp pain burning in the side of her neck while attempting a roll.

“It must just be some kind of muscle strain,” she thought. Certainly nothing to spend too much time worrying over.

Doctors ordered her into a neck brace as a precaution. Not one to be deterred, Bennett wore the neck brace at the dance competition where she competed in all of her routines despite the bulky constraints jutting out of her neck.

It was the last time she would dance for two years.


Mysterious stiffness


Bennett’s neck pain persisted throughout the next few days.

Her parents tried everything in hopes of relieving the mysterious stiffness, whether it was with heating pads, professional massages or muscle relaxers. Two weeks after returning to school, her arm went numb and turned a bright shade of purple. She could not move it.

“Honestly, I was like, ‘What the hell is going on?’,” Bennett said. “You don’t know what is happening, so I just brushed it off hoping my limbs would work again.”

The numbness in Bennett’s body bounced around between her arms and legs. Ignoring the issue was no longer an option.

The Bennett family visited doctors hoping to pinpoint what was happening to Taylor. She underwent nearly 50 tests looking to identify any rheumatoid diseases, three CT scans and multiple MRIs searching for brain tumors.

Still, nothing could be found.

“I think I lost 20 pounds over stress,” Julie Bennett, Taylor’s mom, said. “It was the scariest and most horrible thing we have ever been through.”

After three months, doctors diagnosed Bennett with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, a rare limb pain developed after injury.

To cope with the stress of her neck injury, Bennett’s brain overreacted and shut down the rest of her body. CRPS affects fewer than 200,000 people in the United States per year and is not curable.


“It was hard not having control over my life”


Bennett spent most of the next year alternating between using a wheelchair and crutches.

She did not attend class for the remainder of eighth grade and endured physical therapy every day during the week. A few months ago, she had been jumping for joy on the dance floor. Now, she needed her mom’s help to brush her teeth.

“It was embarrassing,” Bennett said. “I couldn’t do anything on my own, and it was hard not having control over my life.”

Even after returning to school for her freshman year of high school, challenges remained.

When arriving in physics class, Bennett took her seat like she did every day. When the class ended and all her friends got up, Bennett remained. She could not move her legs, and her parents were called to bring her a wheelchair.

Bennett’s legs were both purple that day, but the only color she remembers is the red flush across her face as her friend helped her down the hall.

“She was at other people’s mercy and that definitely took a toll on her,” Madeleine Calcagno, a childhood friend of Bennett’s, said.

The cycles of immobility gradually grew better over time as Bennett’s body became more receptive to her medication. She entered remission at the end of her freshman year of high school and has not had a serious flare-up since the day in physics class.

When the disease first manifested two years ago, Bennett spent months waiting on a diagnosis while her body slipped away, making a difficult situation even worse.

Something needed to be done.


Determined to live life in motion


With the help of her family, Bennett started a nonprofit focused on giving families battling with CRPS a source of reliable information.

The nonprofit, CRPS Kids Foundation, raised $20,000 over three years.

When Taylor graduated high school, she decided to merge her nonprofit with Fight the Flame, another nonprofit in Charlotte raising awareness and money for CRPS. She sits on the company’s board of directors with her father.

“What I went through was really scary and I don’t want people to ever go through the same thing,” Bennett said.

Bennett is now a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill hoping to major in business and journalism. She still loves to dance, and her past experiences have changed her into a person determined to live life in motion.

“I have no doubt she will find success in anything she takes on,” Lex Casciano, a college friend of Bennett’s, said.

As the music in her apartment fades away, Bennett takes a seat on her couch. She does not know if her legs will allow her to get back up. Either way, she will rise again.


Edited by Britney Nguyen

The lasting impact of a mother’s battle with breast cancer

By Praveena Somasundaram

Tanvi Saran was going to be late for dance practice.

As she ran through the laundry room, she bumped into her mother, Nita Saran, who was walking through the garage door. Tanvi uttered a quick apology and closed the door behind her.

Later that night, Nita clutched her hand to her chest.

“I don’t know what you did, but you hurt me,” she said.

Nita’s breast still hurt days later. Concerned that the pain persisted, her husband, Dr. Kaushal Saran, examined her. He found a lump, and a biopsy confirmed it was malignant. Nita was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Tanvi and her parents were in their living room together when Nita’s friend and primary care physician, Dr. Shrilekha Parikh, told the family about the diagnosis.

“We were all just sitting there, and it was really like, ‘Oh my god, what just happened?’” Tanvi said.

Nita began to cry.

From her spot on the floor in front of the couch where her mom and Dr. Parikh sat, Tanvi reached for her mom’s hand. Kaushal sat on a couch opposite them, also trying to comfort his wife. To Tanvi, the lights in the living room seemed more dim than usual, as if they too heard the diagnosis.

Dr. Parikh then told them Nita’s tumor was caught early enough that she had a chance of survival. Treatment for breast cancer depends in part on the stage of the disease — ranging from stage 0 to stage 4. The lower the number, the less the cancer has spread and the higher the survival rate, according to the American Cancer Society.

Tanvi’s rush to get to dance practice led to something crucial to her mother’s treatment — a stage 2 diagnosis. Fourteen-year-old Tanvi might have saved her mom’s life.

“I need to go to the bathroom,” Tanvi said.

Instead, she went to her bedroom and called her best friend, Ella Moxley.

“Are you OK?” Ella asked.

“Yeah, I’m OK,” Tanvi said.

She wasn’t. She’d just heard her mom’s cries shatter the air in the living room. She’d just told her best friend news that she never thought she’d have to.

“That’s not a normal sentence that comes out of a teenager’s mouth,” Tanvi said. The tears she’d kept at bay around her family just moments before streamed down her face.


When Tanvi saw her mom at home after treatment began, she was almost always seated in the same corner of one of the living room couches. She was recovering from a double mastectomy.

Tanvi remembers thinking that her mom looked tired and frail. Her mom, whose loud laugh used to pierce the air, now sat quietly on the couch.

Once Nita’s treatment began, Tanvi didn’t see her much. Ella’s mom drove Tanvi to school in the mornings, and Kaushal picked the girls up in the afternoons. Nita’s friends created a meal schedule so the family wouldn’t have to cook during the week.

Tanvi went to school, dance practices and debate team meetings as if nothing in her life had changed. She kept her grades up and studied for the ACT, even though she was only in her first year of high school.

“I did the best I could to make my mom proud,” Tanvi said. “And the way that I did that was to keep pushing and pretending like it wasn’t happening.”

Nita didn’t mind that her daughter’s life was continuing on normally. She preferred it that way.

“I didn’t have to take care of Tanvi at all, in every sense of the words,” Nita said.

Tanvi said chemotherapy was even worse on her mom than the recovery from her double mastectomy. Tanvi visited Nita only once during chemo.

She walked into a clinic in Norman, Oklahoma and saw around 10 brown chairs lined up along a gray wall, most of them occupied by women receiving chemo.

Nita was reclined in one of the chairs with tubes connecting her arm to a machine next to her. Tanvi sat on a stool beside her, staring at her sullen eyes, dry brown skin and bald head resting against the chair.

After about half an hour, Tanvi left for dance practice. She never visited her mom during chemo appointments again — it was hard enough seeing her at home. She suspected that her mom didn’t want her to see too much of the process either.

“She was also trying to protect me,” Tanvi said.

Now a UNC-Chapel Hill junior studying biology, Tanvi is considered by many who know her to be the perfect pre-medical student. She works in a research lab, serves on the executive board of a health-related club and tutors other students as a supplemental instructor for biology classes.

But most of Tanvi’s friends at UNC-CH don’t know that her mom had breast cancer. They don’t know that she felt helpless as a high schooler, unsure of how to take care of a parent with cancer. They don’t know that what she couldn’t give in support to her mom is what she wants to give to her future patients.

She hasn’t even told her mom that.


Tanvi is the fundraising co-chair for Carolina Pediatric Attention Love and Support, a nonprofit that pairs UNC-CH undergraduates with pediatric cancer patients at the N.C. Cancer Hospital to form supportive relationships.

Tanvi was paired with a “pal,” whose identity cannot be revealed due to privacy laws, in August. Back at her home in Oklahoma for the semester, she started having weekly Zoom calls with her pal. Tanvi said whenever she mentioned those calls, her mom always perked up, wanting to know how they went.

“I wasn’t able to do anything for my mom back then,” Tanvi said. “But now I’m old enough that I can have an impact on her in an indirect way by helping other people.”

“I think that motivates her, among other things, a lot to continue to work for CPALS,” Mary Virginia Glennon, the nonprofit’s other fundraising co-chair, said.

Though her pal is no longer consistently at the hospital, Tanvi meets with them twice a week this semester. Before their meetings, Tanvi thinks of everything Parikh and other friends did for her family at a time when she was too young to take on that responsibility.

“That’s why I want to go into medicine,” Tanvi said. “It’s just to be that support system for somebody.”

And she opens her laptop, ready to Zoom with her pal.

Edited by Brooke Spach

Banking on the COVID-19 vaccine to plan the perfect wedding

 By Courtney Heaton

Christine Fay and Cohen Cox have been engaged for two months. Cohen says the wedding will be “sometime in the fall.” Christine can list the time, date and location. Cohen hasn’t decided on groomsmen yet. Christine has already asked her five closest friends to be bridesmaids. They’ve picked out dresses, and she already has her gown. Beyond dress shopping, Christine is brainstorming ways to save her wedding if the COVID-19 pandemic is still going strong on her special day.

Wedding plans

Cohen is adamant that there hasn’t been much planning. The two of them are so busy as homeowners, graduate students and dog owners. There hasn’t been any time.

Cohen doesn’t know Christine has been planning this wedding her entire life.

“The color scheme is rose and gold. It’s going to be a mountain wedding in Asheville in the fall. I’ve had my dress picked out for a while. It’s an A-line cut with lace and tulle all over,” Christine said eagerly while scrolling through her Pinterest board of wedding ideas.

As excited as Christine is about her wedding, she’s concerned about the pandemic’s impact. She said she hopes an efficient vaccine rollout will make her dream wedding possible.

With the pandemic, Christine must plan around many unanswered questions. What will the state’s restrictions be? Will long-distance travel be allowed? Will her high-risk guests be safe? Christine said if COVID-19 is still rampant come the fall, virtual accommodations will be made to include everyone safely.

“As much as I want everyone to come to the wedding, I don’t want it to be considered dangerous or a high-risk situation to put people in,” Christine said. “That’s why I’m really banking on vaccine rollouts and to flatten the curve by fall.”

Cohen’s eagerly relinquished the wedding planning reins to Christine, to the benefit of both of them. Christine has made it very clear that Cohen’s responsibilities are selecting groomsmen and making sure they come to the ceremony sober or can at least pretend to be.  Christine also expects him to behave at his bachelor party.

“Someone mentioned taking Cohen to Vegas for his last night of being a bachelor,” Christine said. “I’m hesitant to let Cohen and his friends loose in Sin City. We’ll just have to talk about it, but to be fair he hasn’t even selected groomsmen, so how is he going to plan a Vegas trip?”

Proposal long coming

“I mean, I’ll wear a tux, probably black, maybe a different color, whatever she wants,” Cohen said when imagining his wedding wardrobe. “It’s her day. My day was proposing to her.”

Cohen proposed last Christmas, six years into their relationship, after Christine pushed for an engagement.

The two met in undergrad at East Carolina University in 2012. They were introduced to one another by a mutual friend, Christine’s then-boyfriend, Cameron Page. Cohen knew Cameron from his hometown, Rockingham, North Carolina. The demise of Cameron and Christine benefited Cohen. He quickly became the counselor, consoler and “ya know, from a certain angle he’s kind of cute” prince charming in Christine’s life.

Christine explained Cohen’s reluctance to propose simply: “He’s just Cohen.”

Possible culprits are Cohen’s constant procrastination that flourishes in his school, work and daily household tasks or his hesitancy to get off his pocketbook for an engagement ring Christine liked.

Christine said the two have reached every relationship milestone other than marriage, even adopting two dogs.

“We have lived together for four years which I’m happy about,” Christine said. “You don’t truly know someone until you’ve lived with them. We are homeowners and have been for a year and a half now. We adopted Miska and Sammy together, furthered our education together. All that’s left is marriage and babies, and I’m not ready for kids just yet.”

That being said, Christine is ready for her wedding day.

Banking on the vaccine

The wedding party will be made-up of ten people, pending Cohen’s groomsmen selection. Then add the plus ones, Christine and Cohen’s family, friends and coworkers. The size of the wedding is “standard,” as Christine put it, if the pandemic is under control.

“We are waiting until the fall in hopes that things will be better, and vaccines will have been given to a larger population,” Christine said.

Christine is a behavioral therapist for children with Autism. She hopes that she will be included in the phase of vaccines being distributed to teachers in North Carolina because she works closely with students.

Christine is considering some COVID-friendly techniques like individually wrapped snacks such as chip bags, mini desserts and other appetizers between the wedding and the reception cocktail hour. Another tactic is to have the dinner served by a catering company that will serve the guests instead of a buffet. This will reduce guests from touching utensils and those serving will be able to wear masks, gloves and any other protection necessary. Christine is also planning socially distant seating.

“If the wedding does have to be small, we’ll just save a lot of money and go on a great honeymoon, but I’ve been planning this wedding for a long time,” Christine said. “I really don’t want to put it off any longer.”

Edited by Megan Suggs

N.C. musician Sonny Miles is miles from where he started

By Macy Meyer

A call from his best friend woke Jordan Williams.

“Dude, check your phone right now!”

After hanging up, Jordan scrolled through the dozens of text messages that littered his phone’s home screen. “This better be good,” he thought. Jordan, a notorious night owl, stayed up into the morning hours to work on his music the previous night. He unlocked his phone, opened his messages and his heart jumped. He stood up straight from his bed, heart pounding against his chest like a drum.

There, Jordan saw his stage name, Sonny Miles, sandwiched between J. Cole and Migos on former President Barack Obama’s “Favorite Music of 2019” playlist posted on Twitter that morning.

Jordan was stunned. The song, “Raleighwood Hills,” only had a few hundred streams on Spotify. He was just a kid from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was on a list with some of his idols. He could not fathom how Obama had found the song.

“It was very much insane because I was like, ‘I’m the only person on this list I don’t know,’” Jordan said.

The day was filled with phone calls, congratulatory texts and delighted screams. It felt like recognition that was well-overdue. It felt like an affirmation of his dream to be a musician.

Planting his roots

Normally, elementary-aged kids in church on a Sunday morning would be zoning out, or even trying to sneak a quick nap. Not Jordan. He couldn’t help but stare at the church’s drummer — it mesmerized him.

Jordan’s dad, Stephen, sang for the choir at the Christ Cathedral Church of Deliverance in Winston-Salem, which meant Jordan was expected to be present every Wednesday and Sunday, and sometimes days in between. While Jordan appreciated the choir’s performances each week, it was the rhythms and the syncopation of the drummer that made the boy sit up a little straighter in the pew.

Music was always around for him. As a 5-year-old, Jordan would grab his father’s Walkman, pop in Fred Hammond’s “Purpose By Design” and ride his bike to the tune of the gospel track for hours around his garage. He’d listen to the rhythms of the drum on the tape and then analyze the choir drummer the next day at church. “I always studied music before I even practiced it,” Jordan said.

One day, he approached the church’s drummer after the sermon, hoping to get his hands on the wooden drum sticks and a tutorial. Usually, he was told no, but sometimes he wasn’t. It didn’t matter because Jordan was already hooked on drums.

“That was the root,” Jordan said. “I would be nothing without religion or at least without the faction of church.”

Sophomore year of high school, those roots grew. Jordan’s mom, Calya, would go to bed early for her job as a teacher. With the house silent, Jordan would grab his mom’s laptop and his newly acquired iPod Classic and download music until 2 or 3 a.m.

Night after night Jordan would research his favorite musicians and their favorite musicians, and study old Rolling Stone magazine articles to learn more about the retro artists who soundtracked his youth.

As a student of music, his next assignment was a live performance. It was in the auditorium of Mount Tabor High School during a live performance of the musical “Godspell” when his fate was sealed.

“I just felt like I could do it,” Jordan said. So, he headed to a pawn shop to buy a guitar and learned to sing.

Stepping from stone to stone

Years later in 2016, when critically acclaimed rapper and singer T.I. dapped him up after a performance, Jordan knew he was onto something.

After performing a 30-minute set for PackHOWL, N.C. State University’s annual homecoming concert, Jordan didn’t expect the three-time Grammy Award winner to approach him backstage at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh. He especially didn’t expect T.I. to say he enjoyed Jordan’s performance.

“He really tore the stage up that night,” Daniel Maxwell, longtime friend and bassist, said. “I was in awe of how he handled the situation. This was probably one of the biggest performances we had done in that time in our lives.

“The shock and nervousness was there, but once we got on stage, I could see he was right at home.”

T.I.’s compliment is still what stands out for Jordan. It stands out as the moment the college junior realized his music could get noticed by charting artists.

“It was definitely the stepping stone,” Jordan said.

Jordan was practicing twice a week for three hours and performing three times a week with his a cappella group, The Grains of Time.

As an undergraduate student, communications was his major, but music was his love and his devotion. In between class and practice, he was producing his own music, gaining attention across campus from the student body, booking slots at shows and honing his craft — despite being a self-taught music producer.

Kai McNeil, a close friend of Jordan’s, said he was always walking around N.C. State’s campus with a guitar — he said music is always present when Jordan is around.

In those days, Jordan was just becoming who he is now: Sonny Miles.

He knew he wanted to be soulful like the jazz records his grandfather, Cleave, played. He knew he wanted to have a timeless sound like artists Sonny Stitt and Miles Davis, who inspired his stage name. He was developing his distinct sound and working to become Sonny Miles.

“‘It’s about damn time'”

Shakilya Lawrence almost dropped her phone when Jordan said he had been recognized by former President Obama.

Jordan’s longtime partner always knew the song — a collaboration with LesTheGenius and Jaxson Free — was good, but for the independent, N.C.-based artists to get presidential recognition was what she called an “unexpected blessing.”

“I was over the moon for them,” Lawrence said. “I knew Jordan’s recognition would come at some point and I’m just glad it came from that level.”

After begging to be taught drums; dedicating a summer to learning guitar; spending hours learning to mix music; studying music instead of sleeping and dreaming of recognition like this since childhood: this was the break Jordan needed.

Jordan’s closest supporters believe the recognition was not just needed, but earned.

“I felt a combination of giddiness and ‘it’s about damn time,’” Maxwell said.

And they know it’s only the beginning for him.

“Jordan is very ahead of his time and the music industry has to catch up to him,” Lawrence said. “I know he’s always had a very progressive sound, a very forward-thinking, dynamic sound.”

“I’ve been telling him this since I met him that it’ll happen soon. I know it will,” she added.

There is a strangeness to being around someone right on the brink of greatness and knowing deep down that person could one day walk the red carpet at the Grammy Awards, but that’s how fans of Sonny Miles feel.

“That was just the beginning cusp of what he’s able to do and will do as an artist,” McNeil said. “If you want to be ahead of the curve, know him now.”


Edited By Brandon Standley

Latin American bookstore and cafe Epilogue adapts to pandemic

By Gabriel Lima

 Nestled between Sup Dogs and an alleyway on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill sits Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews. Outwardly unassuming, it is a picture of coziness inside with books lining the walls and covering tables. Many have notes and reviews attached, each one carefully handwritten and thoughtful. A painting of Frida Kahlo adorns one wall. Potted plants hang from the ceiling. Latin-influenced treats, such as churros and buñuelos, fill a glass display at the counter, and the air smells of coffee and chocolate. There is a welcoming aura to the place: a warmth that feels intentional, carefully curated.

Epilogue is the passion project of owner Jaime Sanchez and his wife and co-owner Miranda. The Sanchezs’ attribute their idea to the closing of The Bookshop — their favorite bookstore in Chapel Hill that closed in July 2017.

“A big part of why we moved to Chapel Hill in 2015 was because it had a bookstore downtown,” Jaime said. “[When] The Bookshop closed, we knew we couldn’t let that stand.” 

The Sanchezs’ spent long hours researching and building a plan that could survive in the competitive downtown Chapel Hill rent market. After working through many iterations, they found a business model that could sustain them, pay living wages to their employees (a critical factor, Jaime noted) and allow them to pursue their dream.

Epilogue enjoys immense support and patronage from Chapel Hill locals and UNC students alike. Jaime attributes this to a “deep understanding” from the community that art, especially books, is important. 

“The desire to keep Chapel Hill weird and full of interesting places is deep rooted in our history,” Jaime remarked. “Chapel Hill is a special place, and if you can set up a business that can connect so well with the community, then the community will respond accordingly.”

Latin American roots

Intrinsic to the charm of Epilogue is its Latin influence. Jaime and his wife have taken great pains to ensure his Mexican heritage shines through in the food and drinks.

“My favorite item on the menu is our vanilla concha,” he said. “The panaderia (bakery) back home in Tijuana that I love has a very specific way to make them.” 

An avid baker, Jaime worked hard to bring those flavors into his food. 

“When I take a bite, I am immediately transported back home to 6:00 p.m. in the panaderia, when the second run of bread is made and people buy it fresh out of the oven on their way home from work,” he said.

The selection of literature available reflects the couple’s Latin roots as well. Jaime and his wife are careful to display works by people of color and LGBTQ writers in an effort to raise visibility for these communities.

Adapting through COVID-19 pandemic

Jaime himself is a humble figure, dressed in a baker’s apron and an Epilogue-branded shirt. He is genial and witty — his love for what he does is apparent in the care he puts in. 

His favorite novel is Franz Kafka’s “The Castle.”

“Kafka may not be known for happy endings,” he laughed, aware of the juxtaposition between the often depressing subject matter and his own optimistic personality. “I appreciate the complexity of his storytelling and the ‘true to life’ feel his stories have. Life is not simple, and he mastered an artistic take on the reality of life.”

One such complexity of life for Jaime has been dealing with the pandemic. His tone shifted from light-hearted to serious as he discussed it.

“We’ve been holding up as well as one can,” he reflected. “I feel like I failed to protect our employees. I wish I could do more to keep all employees working and safe.” 

He pointed to his role as the oldest in his family as the source of his caring nature. 

“I’m kind of that person that is unofficially assigned to protect and keep an eye on the whole family.”

“We did have to make a lot of changes during COVID,” Jaime noted. “We were so successful with the core business [before the pandemic] that we’d never had to think about an online site or delivery. The pandemic had us scrambling to move everything online.”

Jaime emphasized how careful Epilogue has been to keep their employees and customers safe.

“From a safety perspective, we had to make sure the idea of ‘safe space’ was at the core of our decision making, so we ensured we were two steps behind any further reopening steps the state government allowed us to have,” he said. “We never made a decision to reopen further without staff input, and we made it our mission to provide masks and gloves to anybody that needs it.”

 Epilogue is especially important, Jaime reasoned, because it is positioned between two major bus stops, which creates a constant demand for personal protective equipment.

 “Protecting our community continues to be our moral responsibility,” he said.

Looking forward

Once Epilogue was again stable and adapting to the new normal, Jaime turned his sights back toward helping people in his community.

“Once we were set up online, I had to figure out how to further help our community of vendors and artists,” Jaime said, referring to local writers, jewelry makers, potters and the like, all of whom have been given space to promote their work within Epilogue.

 “We came up with ‘surprise boxes,’ which included goods from local vendors and books that you might have otherwise missed because they came up during a pandemic,” he said.

Despite the challenges, Jaime said he remains positive in his outlook.

“My hope for the future is to exist, to be here for alumni. I know all the students have to leave at some point and that makes me sad,” he lamented. “But such is life, right? The thought of seeing students again in 10 years, maybe sooner, and being here for them is what keeps me going.”

Edited by Elizabeth Egan and Jennifer Tran


The road not taken: finding happiness in life’s decisions

By Maddie Ellis

 Dancers, artists and actors surrounded Kathleen Monegan in her masters of art education program at The Ohio State University. Kathleen was in her 40s, born in Akron, Ohio, a mother of three, and was married for 27 years. Even though she never finished the program, she still thinks about those classmates. Hearing what they had done, what these people had accomplished, she found herself at a juncture. 

 New Beginnings 

 Kathleen met Laszlo — who went by Louis, the Americanized version of his traditional Hungarian name — at age 22. They lived in the same neighborhood by their college, The University of Akron. After Louis finished his accounting major, seven months after they met, the two were married.

After they walked down the aisle, Kathleen and Louis moved to Cleveland, Ohio, the home of Louis’s family.  

 Louis got a prestigious job working for a large accounting firm in the city. Kathleen got a job working as a secretary for the Standard Oil of Ohio. But she didn’t know anybody in the city, outside of her husband and her in-laws. 

 “That was a very kind of strange, lonely time for me,” she said. 

 She had her first child, a daughter named Beth, in 1966 — eighteen months after she was married. 

 “And I did know about birth control,” she said with a laugh. 

 She had her second daughter, Julie, four years later. Then a son, Dana, four years after that. This timing wasn’t planned, rather an example of her “knee-jerk living,” she said.

 Marriage wasn’t everything to Kathleen. But her husband’s job working in college administration did offer her the opportunity to find her own passion: learning. As her family moved around Ohio, she took classes at local colleges. Some at Ohio Wesleyan University, some at Ohio State, some at Kenyon College. 

 She was still taking classes at local universities into her 40s. Then, she went to New York City. 

 Living in a house off of a highway in Chelsea, she worked as an administrative assistant in the arts through an internship program. She spent three months doing the work behind-the-scenes. But through all the calls, emails and tasks, she studied the operations of a nonprofit organization supporting artists. 

 The Cinderella Hoax 

Her exposure to these mentors, the city, and then choosing to pursue her masters in arts education all converged around the time that Kathleen thought about ending her marriage. 

 After looking at her situation for so long, she realized she just had to do it. 

 “To me, it was like getting on top of a high dive and heading down towards a cold pool,” she said. 

 Once she made the decision, she didn’t go back. 

“It wasn’t that Cinderella myth that I had grown up with in the ‘50s, that I had bought into,” she said. 

 Her first marriage wasn’t her happy ending.

 “Have you seen Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Into The Woods?’” she asked. 

 In finding the strength to make one choice, one choice to leave her traditional marriage and family life, Kathleen let any semblance of her faithfulness to the Cinderella myth shatter, like  broken glass over a marble staircase. 

 Kathleen’s granddaughter Rowan McDonald, 18, said above all, her grandmother has taught her that change is OK. 

 “You could have a bunch of different careers and still be successful, and you can live a bunch of different places and still be successful, and you can stay in one place and still be successful,” Rowan said.

 Sending Postcards

 Violet Kehoe, 19, grew up in Medina, Ohio. Many of her early memories with Kathleen revolved around the question, “Where’s grandma now?” 

 When she wasn’t there for family gatherings, Kathleen always sent a cardboard box with gift bags inside for each grandchild, meticulously labeled. Violet still remembers receiving a small backpack in the shape of a black bear, sent with love from New Mexico. Years later, she spotted a matching backpack hanging in her grandmother’s room. 

 The backpack is one of many remnants of all the times Kathleen traveled the world. In finding the strength to leave her former marriage, she gave herself the opportunity to make endless choices — all visible in the stamps on a creased and worn passport. 

 After she retired, Kathleen lived at Yellowstone National Park for seven months, working in lodging and campground reservations. She spent her days in a cubbyhole, staring at a screen, on the phone speaking with customers. 

 “It was a pretty crappy job,” she said. 

 When Violet was 10, she visited while her grandmother was working at Yellowstone. They drove throughout the park in Kathleen’s blue Nissan. At one point, Kathleen slammed on the brakes as a herd of buffalo passed in front of them through the road. 

 “I just remember it being so beautiful in the air, when I looked out the window,” Violet said. “Like that’s the first time I had ever seen mountains before.” 

 No Regrets

 Kathleen admits she’s made mistakes in her life. But this decision, to leave her feelings of dependency and her life in Ohio, is one she doesn’t regret. She actually describes it as one of her life’s successes. 

 “It modeled a lot to my children, who had grown up in a pretty confusing household, because their mother was not happy pretty consistently,” she said. 

 Kathleen lives in Carrboro now, close to Violet, and they get brunch almost weekly. Over Violet’s winter break, they watched the Netflix show “Bridgerton” together. 

 “What I thought was funny was Violet’s reaction,” she said. “I wasn’t embarrassed, I think she was just embarrassed that I was there.” 

 She doesn’t anticipate traveling as much anymore. Instead of choosing places on a map, she browses the magazine racks at Barnes and Noble. 

 “I may keep a section of the paper for two weeks, reading through the obituaries,” she said. “It’s really crazy, nobody would do that, you know?”

 She looks through the New York Times, Harper’s Bazaar, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal. She likes to skip around, to have options. 


Edited by Kyle Mehlman & Makayla Williams 

‘An honor to be there’: A day in the life of a UNC doula

By Sasha Schroeder

A pregnant woman arrived by helicopter alone at UNC Hospitals in February 2020. She was in labor, 15 weeks earlier than expected.

Medics rushed the woman inside, where Hannaneh Mirmozaffari was in the middle of her doula shift. Not realizing the woman was only 24 weeks pregnant, Mirmozaffari reassured her everything was going to be okay.

At just 21 years old, Mirmozaffari is used to being at the bedsides of strangers on the most intense days of their lives; as a volunteer doula, she provides physical, educational and emotional support for mothers before, during and after childbirth. She holds their hands, gets them water, massages their backs and helps them breathe through their contractions. In the dizzying commotion that labor and delivery rooms can be, she is a source of steady comfort.

Mirmozaffari worried she’d given the woman false hope when she discovered the baby’s due date was months away. She had already helped one mother give birth earlier in the day, but it had gone smoothly and the baby had been ready. This baby wasn’t.

Out of nowhere, the woman’s family flooded the room. They had been driving to Chapel Hill behind the helicopter as fast as they could. Mirmozaffari remembered the husband having a slow, sweet southern drawl that stood in sharp contrast to the chaos around her.

Tears rolled down the woman’s cheeks while the obstetrician told her there was a possibility the baby would die. She offered to take a video of the fetal monitor so the woman would be able to have the heartbeat as a memory.

As she watched a nurse record the heartbeat, Mirmozaffari thought about how she was trained to witness birth. She wasn’t sure she was ready to witness death.

She took a deep breath, swallowed and tried to help the woman slow down her pushing while the doctors explained what was about to happen. She wasn’t going to let her emotions cloud her judgment.

“It’s not about me,” Mirmozaffari said. “If the baby lives or dies, it’s my job to help Mom. It’s not my sadness to feel.”

Someone called out, saying the neonatal intensive care unit was ready to receive the baby. By that time, eight doctors had gathered in the room — six for the baby and two for the soon-to-be mother.

A job full of life

Mirmozaffari never gets tired of witnessing childbirth.

“It’s a very monumental moment,” she said. “It’s an honor to be there.”

The baby girl arrived in the world weighing less than a pound. Her father quickly cut her umbilical cord and doctors whisked her away.

“We were all so scared for a few minutes,” Mirmozaffari said. “I held the mom’s hand and her husband held her other. They prayed, and I prayed too.”

For a few minutes, the baby’s heartbeat was too low. The doctors placed her on a ventilator, wrapped her in plastic to trap her body heat and gave her oxygen. The sight was jarring.

Mirmozaffari couldn’t help but hope the woman would be able to watch the baby girl’s already thick, dark hair grow for years to come.

Her hopes weren’t in vain. 

Alhamdulillah, she lived,” Mirmozaffari said. 

Two cultures in one

Alhamdulillah is an Arabic phrase that Muslims — regardless of whether they speak Arabic — use to thank God.

Mirmozaffari speaks English and Farsi. She switches seamlessly between the two when speaking to her family on the phone and routinely drops “y’all” into conversations with a grin. She is both an American and an Iranian, and for her, these identities do not conflict. 

She thinks of herself as “100 percent North Carolinian and 100 percent Persian,” which, when added together, explains her endless zest. She is a doula, a gardener, a barista, a rock climber, a mountain biker, a reader and a writer.

Ornate, jewel-toned Persian rugs carpet Mirmozaffari’s bedroom and topographical maps of the Blue Ridge Mountains cover her walls. Nestled in those mountains are her favorite climbing routes, bike trails and hikes. Photos taken at concerts in Carrboro are collaged above her desk along with photos taken during teatime in Tehran, Persepolis and Isfahan. 

Her desk is stacked with books of all kinds. Fittingly, Mirmozaffari is studying medical anthropology as a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, with minors in chemistry and creative writing. She can often be found reading Abraham Lincoln’s speeches, studying anatomy or scribbling furiously in the margins of one of her favorite books, “All the King’s Men.”  

One photo above her books shows her in a UNC t-shirt and a hijab, standing in the middle of a river in the mountains surrounding Tehran three summers ago. Since 1983, women in Iran have been required to wear a headscarf and loose-fitting clothing, meaning they can’t determine what to wear in public for themselves.

Mirmozaffari chooses to wear a hijab no matter where she is. She thinks a lot about the assumptions people have about her simply because she chooses to cover her hair; she thinks a lot about how people always point out how outgoing and outspoken she is. She wonders if they would say anything if she didn’t wear a hijab.

“People assume I am certain in my faith, or that I’ve figured something out that other people haven’t because I wear hijab,” Mirmozaffari said.

She hasn’t. Wearing a hijab is a deeply personal choice, just like anything else.

Everything that Mirmozaffari does — for school, work or fun — is personal. It is not in her nature to stop short of throwing herself fully into everything she does.

Her next great adventure, she hopes, will be medical school. She wants to practice rural family medicine so she can increase access to care for families who need it most while being surrounded by her beloved mountains. Her interest in medicine stems from her love of people and family, blood or otherwise.

She recalled how the woman who gave birth prematurely kept thanking her. “We’re family now,” the woman said, over and over. 

Mirmozaffari’s family grows all the time.

Edited by Parker Brown

Zoom funerals: How COVID-19 has impacted the grieving process

By Suzanne Blake

When Lucy Hill learned her grandmother Diane Ulrich had gone to the hospital in mid-March 2020, she didn’t expect the worst. 

Ulrich wasn’t feeling well, but the Hill family could never have imagined that the strong matriarch of the family would end up dying in the hospital. Until it happened, and suddenly they were placed in the impossible situation of planning a funeral amid a burgeoning pandemic.

It was after Hill, a UNC-Chapel Hill student, had returned home to Mooresville from college. COVID-19 cases were soaring and UNC had extended its spring break before eventually turning all classes remote when Hill heard the news.

Looking up at her mother Meredith, Hill thought to herself how strong it was that even as she told her gently that her grandmother had passed, her mother did not cry. 


The planning process

The family had to wait what felt like an endless period of time to hear back about if and how they could plan a funeral as the hospital had to ensure Ulrich did not die from COVID-19.

It was determined she had not. But the virus still dramatically impacted the way those who knew Ulrich could celebrate her life.

“It just feels incomplete,” Hill said. “There’s just a disconnect, and it kind of doesn’t feel real almost.”

Ulrich was a devout Catholic who had helped build the Saint Elizabeth’s of Hungary Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. So, even with the looming safety concerns of holding an in-person funeral, Hill said they needed to have a concrete ceremony with a priest.

Only 10 family members could attend the event. Hill was one of them, but the pandemic’s restrictions made it so her brothers couldn’t mourn their grandmother alongside her. 

To Hill, the 10 people were not enough to demonstrate Ulrich’s legacy.

“I wish COVID didn’t happen because she really did deserve a lot more people being there,” Hill said. “She touched so many people’s lives, and 10 people were not representative of the impact she made.”

Other family members and friends could only watch the service broadcasted over Facebook.


Safe grieving

Grieving families are being put into the difficult situation of navigating how to mourn their loved ones throughout the pandemic, said Stephen Mitchell, the funeral director of Walker’s Funeral Home in Chapel Hill.

Many families don’t want to risk their friends coming out to a formal funeral, and many people aren’t showing up when the services do take place, he said. 

There have been more requests for outdoor ceremonies, and families often bring their own streaming equipment.

In the rare case that the families in grief want to have excessively large gatherings that do not heed COVID-19 warnings, Stephen has to force himself to have that difficult conversation. No one wants to hear that their mother or father’s life can’t be celebrated properly.

“That discussion slowly turns to look, as much as we hate to say this, you do have to realize that we are in the middle of a pandemic,” Mitchell said. “There are a lot of things that we can’t control.”

Mitchell knows from his line of work that the virtual events aren’t the same. There’s something to be said for coming together and receiving a hug. 

When people inevitably do hug each other at in-person funerals, Mitchell said it’s not his place to say anything. The funeral home encourages everyone to wear masks, but if people feel safe to handshake or hug, which is a natural reaction to grief at a funeral, that’s on them, he said.


Digital disconnect 

Still, many are bypassing in-person funerals altogether.

UNC senior Laura Traugot remembers her grandmother Marilyn Liden as an even-tempered, kind woman who she could always count on for the best back rub. Traugot took Liden to get Wendy’s before the spring break known as the last “before” COVID-19 time.

In July, Liden was having trouble breathing. Scans revealed the worst: lung cancer. By late August, Liden was in hospice. A few days later, she died. Traugot’s last goodbye for Liden was recorded over her phone. 

For the Traugot family, an in-person funeral wasn’t an option.

“For us, it wasn’t even a question,” Traugot said.

Many of Liden’s friends were in Illinois. Because of Traugot’s parents’ high-risk conditions, Traugot didn’t want people traveling for the event or risk of COVID-19 exposure. 

She used her UNC Zoom account to commemorate Liden’s life in the small way they could. They put together a slideshow of Liden’s life, full of quotes from people who knew her and songs she would have liked.

Laying on her bed after the Zoom funeral, hearing how her grandmother had talked about Traugot and her brother, Traugot cried for two hours. Maybe it would have been different if someone had been there to hug her.

With Zoom, you log on and off, minimizing the closure and support we often receive from attending a funeral with other people who knew the person. Traugot knows that if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, they would have had a proper ceremony.

“It’s difficult for these families because of what they’re going through, and then you throw into the mix, they can’t do what they really want to do to honor their loved one because everybody’s hands are tied,” Mitchell said. “That just brings the emotions to it to a whole new level. It’s things that I’ve never seen in 30 plus years of doing this.”


Difficult decisions 

People knew Eileen Boone as playful and sweet, but she also acted like a queen. UNC senior Taylor Edmonds recalls playing nail salon with her grandmother.

After Boone had a stroke in early 2020, the family prepared their goodbyes. Miraculously, she took a turn for the better. 

In the summer, Boone tested positive for COVID-19 after likely contracting the virus from her home nurse. The goodbyes were excruciatingly difficult. Edmonds’ mother said goodbye in full PPE gear while Edmonds had to say her last words over FaceTime.

Like many, the family could not have an immediate funeral to remember Boone’s life. Come October, they did host a small, outdoor “celebration of life.” 

They made the difficult decision to choose this type of event over a virtual funeral because of how close-knit the family is; they needed that quality time together to commemorate Boone.

“It just felt like it wasn’t enough to do something online in terms of being able to support one another and just be with each other,” Edmonds said. “It just didn’t feel enough to celebrate everything that my grandmother was.”


Moving forward

No matter what type of event a family chooses to say goodbye to a loved one, the grieving process has been radically impacted. So many cannot seek solace in the comfort of their family’s support or the warmth from holding hands through the tears.

Traugot had to let herself grieve and be mad at the whole unimaginable situation of planning a Zoom funeral, two words that should never go together.

“Let yourself be mad at it, but let yourself grieve and do your best to recreate those close connections,” Traugot said.

Edited by Mikayla Goss