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AP file photo by Andy Clayton-King / Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Karl-Anthony Towns has lost seven family members since the COVID-19 pandemic began, including his mother, Jackie, who died of coronavirus complications at age 59 on April 13, 2020.

A coworker and I were supposed to briefly meet at the newspaper's offices this weekend about a work-related issue. On Friday afternoon, he called me to say we'd have to reschedule.

"I'm on my way to Nashville," he said. "I'm going to spend Mother's Day weekend with my mom."

Until 14 months ago, there would have been nothing special in those words other than the knowledge he had both remembered it was Mother's Day weekend and that he was blessed enough to still have his mom around to celebrate her special day with her.

But then the coronavirus pandemic hit. A lot of us weren't allowed to see our mothers in person this time last year. For those of us with older moms (mine will turn 89 in July) there were justifiable fears we might never see them again if they contracted COVID-19. You prayed every night they wouldn't, or if they did, you prayed to a higher power to save them.

I did get to see my mother last Mother's Day. I saw her through a fence at the retirement village she calls home just north of Atlanta. No touching, hugging or kissing. A brief visit. But a year later, no one who lives in her development has caught COVID-19, much less died from it. Count them, their families and their friends among the lucky ones.

And while my sister and I will get to spend Sunday afternoon with her, we still won't be able to eat in the facility's dining room. No visitors are allowed there, even on Mother's Day. We'll get takeout and be grateful to share it with her.

We should all be thankful we have not experienced the year Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Karl-Anthony Towns has. On the face of it, at least before the pandemic hit in March 2020, the former University of Kentucky star and the overall No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft had it all. He's currently on a five-year contract worth $158 million, basically all of it guaranteed. He was the league's rookie of the year that first season with the T-Wolves and has twice been selected to the NBA All-Star team.

Just 25 years old, the 6-foot-11, 248-pounder should play at least 10 more years and make much more money.

But that doesn't mean anyone, anywhere would have wanted to trade places with Towns the past 14 months. A native of New Jersey, he's lost seven total family members since the onset of the virus in the winter of 2020, none of those deaths more painful than that of his mother Jackie in April 2020.

During a news conference on Christmas Eve after his first game back since his mother's death, Towns told the assembled media: "I don't even recognize most of my other games and years I've played and how I felt those days. If I can be honest with y'all for a second, I mean, I don't really recall or really care.

"I only know what happened from April 13 on. Because you may see me smiling and stuff, but that Karl died on April 13. He's never coming back. I don't remember that man. I don't know that man. You're talking to the physical me, but my soul has been killed off a long time ago."

You wonder how many folks around the world feel that same way today. Jackie Towns was one of but 581,000 Americans who have lost their lives to COVID-19 in the United States alone. The worldwide death toll is now rapidly approaching 3.3 million. We do seem to be turning the corner as the number of fully vaccinated grows, but will that continue?

What Towns said months ago as he donated $100,000 to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for coronavirus testing still holds true.

"The disease needs not to be taken lightly," he wrote on social media. "Please protect your families, your loved ones, your friends, yourself. Practice social distancing. Please don't be in places with a lot of people."

And wear a mask if surrounded by strangers who may not yet have had the vaccine.

For those of us lucky enough not to have lost a close friend or loved one to the disease — or watched their health be severely compromised by it — all the other stuff will eventually become stories to be embellished.

All those nights sitting in our car at a drive-thru to pick up dinner. The movie theatres that closed. The toilet paper and hand sanitizer we ran out of and couldn't restock for weeks. The endless Zoom meetings. The occasional Zoom Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings. The way-too-empty football and basketball arenas.

The fear, never to be embellished, that our time, or our parents' or grandparents' time, or even our children's time was just around the corner.

A few weeks ago, on the anniversary of his mom's passing, Towns arrived at the Target Center in Minneapolis to find T-Wolves brass had reserved a seat for his late mom.

At about the same time, he wrote the following on his Instagram account: "A year ago my life was forever changed. To the most beautiful woman I will ever know, I love you more than life itself. Every day I miss you more and more, but your endless love and unforgettable memories are what keeps me going. One day, we will walk side by side again, but until that beautiful day, I will continue to hold down the amazing family you made. I can never replace you in this family, but I will try my best every day."

Trying our best every day is all any mother could ask of or hope for her children. And while we all hope and pray we are in the final months of COVID-19's daily presence in our lives, let those of us still fortunate enough to have our moms around this Mother's Day pause for a moment of silence in order to pray for those who don't.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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