SUGAR LAND, Texas - Nearly 45,000 Texans have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic a year ago, this month.
In Fort Bend County, more than 500 have died. Two Sugar Land sisters want to put a face, name, and family to two of those deaths.
Both of their parents died of COVID-19 less than a day apart.
"My mom and dad wrote the most beautiful, unwritten love story," said Wassela Ajaj.
Her parents, Abdul Ahad and Tazroon Wahab, were married for 53 years.
"They just were inseparable. They never left each other's sides," she added.
She believes they couldn't be without each other even in death.
The husband and wife, both in their 70s, died hours apart in early April 2020. They were in the ICU for less than a week at Houston Methodist Hospital in Sugar Land.
Wassela and her sister, Waheeda, the pain of losing both parents is still excruciating.
"You're scrolling through your phone and you see their picture you just want to reach out and touch them," Waheeda said tearfully.
The sisters' pain is compounded because they were not able to say goodbye in the traditions of their Muslim faith.
Waheeda says she watched as her parents' bodies were put in cement boxes.
"When I sat and watched in the car as the people in hazmat suits lowered my parents down," she recalled. "I just don't know how I'm ever going to get over that because I just replay that [image] over and over again."
Nearly a year after their deaths, their parents' absence is still stark -- they've missed birthdays, anniversaries, and even the arrival of new family members.
"Their first [grandchild] just gave birth to their first great [grandchild] and they would have been so excited to see that," Wassela said.
Their pain is intertwined with frustration when the sisters see people disregard the importance of wearing masks and other safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus that killed their parents.
"For me, it's social anxiety because when I go out and see someone unprotected and I see them just not care and they take out their older family members," Waheeda explained.
They hope that by sharing their story, people will be moved to take precautions that can save lives.
"If you're going to be able to protect someone who is immunocompromised, then why not do it? Because you are protecting another life," Waheeda added. "If you can save one life, you're saving many."
Wassela and Waheeda wish their parents would have been able to access a COVID-19 vaccine. The sisters fear more people will die following Governor Abbott's order to suspend the mask mandate.