Dan Vigil had too many family members to count — don’t even try. The total has nothing to do with blood. If he cared for you, you were family.
Vigil, 68, of Lafayette, cared for most everybody and they loved him right back, his daughter Nichole Romero said.
“He never just went from the grocery store to home. He’d pass by my grandma’s house to make sure everything was OK; he stopped and talked to everybody he knew; he waved and smiled,” Romero said. “There isn’t a person I can think of that didn’t love him.”
And now Vigil’s family is mourning his March 22 death — one of dozens in Colorado due to the new coronavirus sweeping the country.
The loss is more difficult still because the family remains separated, Romero said. Once Vigil was admitted to the hospital, they never saw him again, and they couldn’t didn’t speak with him again after he was placed on a respirator. Such is a possibility for other families in Colorado as new cases of the virus emerge.
“I’ll never see my dad again this side of heaven; that’s the hardest part,” Romero said.
But Romero and others take solace in the notion that once the pandemic settles down, the entire community will rally around her father’s memory and come together for a proper sendoff.
Elena Robles recalls her uncle’s penchant for jokes as she grew up. He’d give her a hard time by pulling her friends aside.
“He’d grab his wallet, grab a five-dollar bill and hand it to them and say ‘Thank you for being her friend,’” Robles said with a laugh. “It was so embarrassing, but looking back it’s what made him him.”
But then he’d pull her aside and make sure she was doing OK at home and ask if there was anything she needed, Robles said.
“He always had a soft side, too, and not everyone got a chance to see that,” she said.
Soft, sure, but Vigil’s Sundays were set in stone, Robles noted.
“Every Sunday, like clockwork. Never failed,” Robles said. “He took my grandma to church with him, he’d be at Rosita’s afterward (for menudo soup, a side of carnitas, a Diet Coke and sopapillas to finish) and he’d always be at home for a Broncos game.”
Typically, Vigil arrived with his wife and mother, but sometimes his entire family dined in, said Pauline Gallegos, the Westminster restaurant’s owner. The schedule held for years, and the staff will miss his weekly presence.
“Not to see him again is going to be so hard when we do get back to normal,” Gallegos said. “This is just unreal.”
Vigil’s soft heart came into play often during Romero’s childhood, she recalled.
“If me or my brother got in trouble, he would pay my mom off, like buy her a comforter set, so we could be ungrounded,” Romero said.
For decades Vigil worked as a lineman for CenturyLink, hanging many of the telephone cables throughout the mountains, in Boulder County and in parts of Weld County, Romero said.
Vigil was also a stubborn man who would attack a wasp nest head-on or “slap some mud” on an injury and keep going, she said.
But by Sunday March 15, he couldn’t stop coughing, and he was admitted to Good Samaritan Medical Center in Lafayette.
By Tuesday, Vigil was on a respirator and unable to communicate, Romero said. Toward the end of the week the doctors and nurses were so overwhelmed they were only able to offer the concerned family updates maybe twice a day.
“I could tell it was getting crazier and busier there,” she said. “The hardest part about this is we are a close family and nobody has ever been in the hospital or sick in my family and we haven’t rallied around them or set up shop at the hospital.”
Robles teared up thinking of a lost opportunity to call her uncle one last time.
The greatest fear, Romero said, was that her father might have died alone. She gave thanks for the medical professionals who took care to offer her father company in his last minutes.
“He actually died with nurses around him,” she said. “Even though they were so busy, they stopped and they were there with my dad for his last breath.”
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