Three days in the deadliest month in the covid pandemic

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1:58 p.m. PT Wednesday

Nyesha Montes De Oca arrives at Guerra Gutierrez Mortuary with a silver makeup case and two shopping bags. She has an appointment with her mother, who died at 6:05 p.m. on Jan. 4.

She has not seen her mother since then. And she has not hugged her mother since April, when Montes De Oca moved her into a skilled nursing home.

A mortuary owner opens the chapel door for Montes De Oca, dressed in a black athletic pullover, jeans and black high-top Chuck Taylors. At the end of the room, Irene Gonzalez, 66, lies in a sea-green dress.

It was Montes De Oca’s request that she be allowed to apply her mother’s makeup and give her a pedicure.

“This was the last thing I wanted to do for her,” says Montes De Oca, who is 38.

She begins at the feet, flipping open the case for clippers and files. She paints in short, careful strokes — working around the toe tag listing the cause of death as covid-19.

The color: “Million-dollar Red.”

“It was her favorite, but they don’t make it anymore,” Montes De Oca says, a catch in her throat.

Gonzalez’s shoes sit next to her on the table. They are high heels, pink and red and sequined. She bought them for her daughter years ago.

“I told her they are way too girly for me, but that she should hold on to them,” she says. “Now, she’ll be buried with them.”

Her mother had always been “girly,” in Montes De Oca’s words. After emigrating from Jalisco, Mexico, as a young woman, Gonzalez won several local beauty pageants.

It was not her thing at all, but Montes De Oca agreed to humor her mom as a teenager, entering and winning a pageant in East Los Angeles. Gonzalez wore the sea-green dress the day of her daughter’s victory.

Montes De Oca grabs a few small compacts and a roll of brushes.

First, she rubs a little powder beneath her mother’s eye, one side, then the other, their faces just inches apart. She uses a small pencil to fill in her mother’s eyebrows, another to soften some smile wrinkles around the eyes. Then, she applies color to the closed lids.

At one point, to no one in particular, she says, “I’m barely keeping this together.”

She leans down to touch up her mother’s right eye, a gesture of poignant beauty, a daughter perfecting a last makeover for her mom.

After months apart, daughter and mother are together again.



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