The Deseret News is compiling a complete list of Utahns lost to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, we hope to chronicle some of the stories of those who’ve died to better understand how our lives have changed because of COVID-19. If you have lost a friend or family member to COVID-19, please email us at email@example.com.
COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — Whether it was a large family gathering or a routine Sunday dinner, Kortnie Aldous would often look around and realize her father had gone missing.
“We could never find my dad because he was either downstairs playing pool with the kids or outside in the yard taking them for rides or playing baseball with them,” Aldous said of her father, Kenneth Roger Kirkman. “He was never with the adults; he was always with the kids.”
While everyone who knew Kirkman loved him, he was especially beloved by children and dogs. The 74-year-old Salt Lake native is one of the 158 Utahns who lost their lives to COVID-19. For his family, the idea that their beloved “Pop” was just another statistic made a devastating loss even more painful.
“He was the greatest guy,” said Aldous. “People would always say to me, ‘Oh, I know your dad! He sold me a home’ or ‘I know your dad. He’s the nicest guy. He tells the funniest jokes.’ And one thing that I mentioned in his obituary is he didn’t care if … he met someone, and they were the CEO or the janitor, he loved everyone. And after five minutes, they were his best friend.
“My brother and I used to always joke every time we travel somewhere, we get into a taxi cab … and my dad would say, ‘So where are you from?’ to the driver, and by the time the driver dropped us off at our destination, he knew everything about him, and they were best friends. That’s just the kind of guy he was. He was well-loved.”
Kirkman was born in Salt Lake City, about 2 1/2 months after the official end of World War II, and grew up five houses away from the woman he’d spend a lifetime loving.
Karen Engel Soter and Kirkman were high school sweethearts at Highland High School, where Kirkman was a record-setting track star for the Rams. They raised two children — Kortnie and her brother KC. He spent a lifetime working in real estate, but his real passion was his family. He perfected his role as grandfather to Mayci, Kamay, Lauren, Kolby, Tyler and Karsan.
“He was the coolest grandpa,” Aldous said, laughter in her voice. “He was the grandpa that would hold the kids and carry them up the hill, put them on their sleds and let them go down. And then he picked them back up, carried them up the hill, put them on their sleds and go back down. He would do anything for his grandkids.”
When his son took up coaching Little League, Kirkman signed on to be his assistant on the sideline.
“The boys loved my dad,” she said. “He was the grandpa coach.”
Their affection for him showed in a loving tribute in which the boys, wearing their football jerseys and holding signs expressing love for their coach, lined the street where the hearse carried his body from the mortuary to the cemetery.
Pop would also make every grandchild a piñata for each birthday.
“He was this incredible artist, and he would make these fantastic piñatas for the kids,” she said. “And you know, years ago, they used to break them open because they were full of candy. But in the last three or four years, I think the grandkids started to realize how much time and effort had gone into creating these piñatas, and so they kept them.”
No request was too big or too small for Pop.
“They’d say, ‘Oh Pop, come over and do a TikTok (video) with us,” she laughed. “And he would. He loved that.”
Kirkman and his wife believe they got COVID-19 despite meticulous precautions when they went to a grocery store in late April.
“He was in very good health,” she said. “He had no underlying medical conditions, other than being 74. Both of my parents were in good health, and they said they just needed to run to the store for one little thing.”
Aldous offered to go to the store for them, but they felt it wasn’t necessary to impose. They went to the store, and Ken picked out the item while his wife waited in line at the self checkout monitors.
“My mom said no one was social distancing,” Aldous said. “No one was wearing masks, and that was really the only place that we think they could have picked it up.”
Aldous and her family visited with them after that trip, sitting outside on their back deck, keeping plenty of space between her and her parents. But it was during that visit that Karen Kirkman told her daughter she hadn’t been feeling well.
Her husband suggested they get tested for the new coronavirus. They were hesitant because it didn’t exactly fit the reported symptoms.
“It started with fever and body aches, but it was gastrointestinal,” Aldous said. “So we were really shocked when they tested positive.”
The first week they were sick, Aldous said “it was like a roller coaster.” Some days they felt fine, other days they’d report “being up all night. We are so sick.”
Eventually, they went to the hospital because of breathing issues. The couple spent 12 days in the hospital together, and for Ken, most of that was in the ICU.
“By about day three, my mom was moved out of the ICU, and she kept getting better while my dad got worse,” Aldous said, adding doctors and nurses tried all different levels of oxygen for her father before calling her in the middle of the night to deliver devastating news.
“They said, ‘We’re so sorry, but we do need to intubate your dad and put him on a ventilator,’” she said, grief strangling her account. “So I got to talk to him one last time before they intubated, and I just expressed my love to him. I told him … that he’d been the best dad, the best grandpa, the best person I know. And that we loved him and we would be there with him.”
Kirkman was on a ventilator for another 10 or so days. He’d make small improvements and then he’d begin another slow, almost imperceptible decline. Aldous takes comfort in knowing that because they were hospitalized together, Karen was able to sit with him nearly every day of their hospital stay, holding his hand, offering him comfort, just as she had all of their lives.
On May 7, Karen Kirkman was able to go home. However, a few hours after taking her mom home, Aldous got a call from her father’s physician. “All of his organs started failing,” she said.
Once again, hospital staff facilitated conversations between Kirkman and his beloved family.
“They had an iPad so we could FaceTime him,” she said. “We all got to say goodbye to him, all the grandkids, my brother and his kids, and my girls, my husband and my mom.”
One of the more cruel aspects of Kirkman’s death was that his beloved wife of nearly 52 years was alone, quarantined in their Cottonwood Heights home when he died.
“My mom was home by herself,” Aldous said. “She was still shedding the virus, so we couldn’t go over and be with her when he passed. … They never spent any time apart. When they traveled, they traveled together. Because of my dad’s profession, he worked a lot from home. … (Losing him) has been a true challenge. They were soulmates.”
Kirkman wasn’t with his family, but he didn’t have to “graduate” on his own.
“The nurses and doctors were amazing,” Aldous said. “They stayed with him all night. They held his hand. He was never alone.”
If you have information about someone who has died from COVID-19 complications, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope to create a complete list of those lost, as well as share some of their stories.