HOOSIERS WE’VE LOST: Losing the last grandparent: Castillo remembered for her adventurous spirit


Editor’s note: This is one of a continuing online series of profiles of the more than 12,000 Hoosiers who have died from COVID-19. The stories are from 12 Indiana newspapers who collaborated to create the collection to highlight the tremendous loss that the pandemic has created. The series appears daily at tribtown.com.

Name: Filomena Castillo

City/Town: Hammond

Age: 75

Died: Oct. 30

Her family saw it as a cute nuance from an immigrant who never really learned English, Sarahi Unzueta recalls of her grandmother, Filomena Castillo.

“Almost every time I called her or before leaving their house, I would yell out ‘love you!’ And she would respond, ‘you too,'” Unzueta recalled of her grandmother. “She obviously meant to say ‘me too,’ but we never really corrected her because it was innocent and cute.”

It was one of the many endearing qualities Castillo’s family will always remember of the woman taken from them in October by COVID-19.

An English language barrier never kept Castillo from communicating encouragement to her family, Unzueta said.

“My Grandma always encouraged my mom to move forward. If my mom wanted to take a class or work, my grandma always offered to take care of me,” Unzueta. “That is the main reason why I always stayed with my grandparents.”

In her heart, Castillo, who moved to Hammond in 1985, was a feminist, always motivating her children and grandchildren to push forward and achieve in spite of social barriers.

Castillo had an adventurous spirit as well, with a zest for travel to Italy, the Holy Lands and various locations throughout the United States, Unzueta said.

And she always had time for her family, helping to raise Unzueta when her mother and father were working long shifts with conflicting hours.

It meant Unzueta practically lived with her grandmother for much of her childhood.

The two were especially close.

As Castillo became older and was able to travel less, Unzueta would stay in close contact with her grandmother, sharing details and photos so Castillo could travel vicariously.

Castillo also would regularly talk about the poverty she knew in her native Mexico, using it as a a teaching moment for her family.

It likely enhanced her zeal for good food, cooking for her family and the wonders of Chinese fast food, Unzueta said.

A conversation about the finer points of Panda Express was one of the last Unzueta can recall having with her grandmother. The memory brought a deep smile to Unzueta’s face during a recent recollection.

“She loved the way it tasted,” Unzueta said. “She always had a way to explain how food was so delicious.”

When COVID-19 hit in the spring, Unzueta said the family took immediate precautions, with the 75-year-old Castillo sheltering in place at her Hammond home.

Castillo required kidney dialysis treatments, so the only place she was going other than her home was a dialysis center, Unzueta said.

“We were doing all the shopping for her,” said Unzueta, noting that even then, the family was careful not to gather together.

Even with those precautions, however, 10 people in her family, including Castillo, contracted the virus, Unzueta said.

The symptoms became severe enough that Castillo was admitted to the hospital on Oct. 1.

Castillo struggled with the virus for month, eventually being placed on life support.

The woman who had escaped poverty to find a new life of adventure in the United States died from COVID-19 on Oct. 30. Her death came two months after the death of her loving husband to a rare disease.

It’s a tragedy that has taken a toll on the whole family, and Unzueta noted she is considering therapy to get through it.

The sadness is exacerbated when Unzueta sees social media comments from people who make light of COVID-19 or mock its severity.

“I’ve read hurtful comments or seen laughing reactions every time something is posted about COVID-related deaths,” Unzueta said in a recent email. “It is hurtful to see all of the hate and laughs in the comment sections and other platforms.

“This was my last living grandparent.”

Contributed by The Times of Northwest Indiana

No posts to display