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On Christmas, honoring some of those lost to the coronavirus

As many Americans adjust to a drastically different Christmas holiday, we remember some of the more than 326,000 people who have died from the coronavirus this year.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    This holiday season, more than a million Americans will have an empty seat at the table due to COVID.

    As we do every Friday, we want to take a moment to tell you about five people who lost their lives to the pandemic.

    Here now are their stories.

    Darlene Peters had an infectious laugh, her daughter said. She was compassionate and grounded in her Catholic faith. Raised on the Swinomish Reservation in Washington state, Darlene became a mental health counselor for the tribal community after receiving her master's degree in 2016. Described by a friend as nonjudgmental, honest, and a great public speaker, Darlene was 58 years old.

    Seventy-one-year-old Manuel Zuniga lived the American dream, his daughter said. Manuel, called Max by those who knew him, was born and raised in Chile. After his father's death when Max was just 13, he took on the responsibility of providing for his family.

    Max left Chile for America over 50 years ago and settled in New Jersey, where he worked long hours at a warehouse, never wanting his children to struggle like he did, according to his daughter.

    Outside of work, Max had a colorful life, a weightlifter in the '80s, a lifelong lover of music and a committed father with a big heart. His daughter said Max was always there for those in need.

    Julia Frances Wishnevski was quiet, but warm, her daughter said. The Illinois native was married in 1932, and she and her husband lived and worked together on a farm. A mother to three daughters, and eventually a great-great grandmother, Julia is described as supportive and caring.

    She loved playing cards and bingo, and she was a great cook who made dessert with every meal. Julia was 108 years old, and she said the secret to her long life was hard work.

    There wasn't a dance floor that Javier Semerene wouldn't dance on or a dinner table where he wouldn't deliver a toast, his family said. He was outgoing, charming, and smiled with his whole heart. Javier was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and moved around South America as a child for his father's work.

    Javier raised his own kids in South Florida, and his own career took him around the globe with his wife of three decades. His family called Javier a world citizen. He was 55 years old.

    Ninety-two-year-old Bill Braithwaite lived his life in the service of others, his daughter said. It was the 4-H Club, a youth organization for kids from farming families, that sowed the seeds of service. It's also where he met his wife of 69 years.

    Bill went on to become a lawyer, settling in Illinois. He was a mentor to many and a champion of his community, serving as the attorney for his town of North Barrington for over 50 years. He was once named man of the year for all his service.

    Described as warm and generous, Bill was a devoted husband, father and grandfather and was known for leading with his heart.

    As always, we are so deeply grateful to the friends and family who share those stories and memories with us. You are all in our thoughts this holiday season.

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