JACKSONVILLE, Fla. —
With all of the warnings we hear about the dangers of the coronavirus, we haven’t heard too many first-person stories.

For locals, that is good news. But one First Coast writer worries that disconnect is preventing people from recognizing just how dangerous the virus is.

Claire Goforth, former editor of Folio Weekly who is now a freelance journalist, knows firsthand what it means to lose a loved one in an epidemic.

Yesterday, she wrote about it for the online publication Medium in a story titled, “My sister died in the last flu pandemic.”

Nikki Goforth was just 32-years-old – and two days into her illness – when she fell asleep and never woke up. 

“She suffocated in her sleep because her lungs filled up with fluid because she had the [H1N1] flu,” Goforth told First Coast News.

The Goforth sisters were raised in Paw Paw, West Virginia – “a town so nice they named it twice,” jokes Goforth. “We grew up walking in the mountains and skipping rocks in the river -- just a couple of country girls.” 

As kids, she and Nikki quarreled like all siblings. But as in many such relationships, that masked a deeper bond. 

“She was my big sister," Goforth said. "I always felt safe with my sister. She would always make sure I was OK.”

As an adult, she was exuberant. 

“She was a great dancer,” Goforth said. “She loved hula hooping like the hippies do. She followed Phish around like it was her job.”

All the more unfathomable when she got word to call her mom for an emergency. 

“When my mom answered the phone, she was crying,” Goforth said. “And she said that Nikki died. I dropped the phone … I flew across the floor and I heard myself yelling ‘No!’”

At first, she expected to hear her sister had been killed in a freak accident. 

“If you had told me that I was going to lose my own sister to the flu at the age of 32,” Goforth said. “I never would have never ever believed it.”

Nikki’s death has meant a thousand missed milestones. And Goforth feels the loss as keenly as ever. But in recent weeks, the pain has resurfaced in a new way. 

“The coronavirus pandemic has really brought back feelings of grief and just the horror of it,” she said.

Seeing people flout the advice -- and even the direct orders -- of state officials prompted her to tell her story publicly. 

“You could be killing somebody,” she said. “You could be killing somebody else’s sister.”

Getting that message out was reason enough to share her painful, personal story.

“I’m a very private person I don’t like to share that much about myself, so for me to share the most horrible, painful experience of my life with thousands and thousands of people -- I think it’s important enough to do it,” Goforth said. “I just want people to see this is what it looks like when you lose somebody in a pandemic. Hopefully, it makes a difference to somebody.”