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Karl-Anthony Towns is opening up about his difficult year after suffering the loss of eight family members due to COVID-19, including his mother.
The 25-year-old professional basketball player for the Minnesota Timberwolves joined actress Taraji P. Henson for an episode of her Facebook Watch series Peace of Mind With Taraji, where they discussed the impact that the coronavirus has had on his family. Most importantly, Towns went into the mental health implications of suffering numerous losses and revealed how he's coping.
"You never know how serious anything is until it lands at your doorstep," he said, sharing that the virus didn't seem "really concerning" until people close to him began suffering. Towns himself even landed in the hospital because of his own battle with the disease. "It was bad," he shared. Still, no pain came close to that which he experienced while watching his mom lose her life.
"It was difficult because as her son and someone who loves her so dearly, I just didn’t want to see her in pain. So I was trying to do everything possible to make her comfortable and get her better quicker. So I was doing everything in my power and she was getting worse," he explained. "I flew in, I put the hazmat suit on and everything and I went in there. I was like, if anyone’s gonna go see her out, I’m gonna see her out. I’ve spent like seven hours with her and I knew it was gonna be the last time so I was kind of working that out."
Ultimately, Jacqueline Cruz died from a blood clot that resulted from the swelling that took place on April 13, 2020 — the same day that she was supposed to be taken off of the ventilator.
"That day changed me as a man. I’m never gonna get that innocent young boy back," Towns said. "Ever since that day, I feel like the world just made me a little colder."
While Towns's father is healthy at home, he too was sick with COVID at the same time as his wife. The couple even shared a hospital room. "My dad was right next to her in the room," the athlete recalled. "So they both were in the same room with each other and then he started turning the corner and she didn’t."
Even after losing seven other family members to the coronavirus, Towns admitted that he's dealt with survivor's guilt in watching the suffering that so many others have also faced.
"I felt really bad because I was like I wish that other families who weren’t making max money in the NBA could get the same treatment and share more memories with each other," he explained. "I don’t want anyone to feel the way I felt. So I felt a lot of survivor’s guilt because I was just like I wish they had the resources I have."
Still, Towns is struggling to use the resources he has, admitting "I have not gotten therapy" since the death of his mom. "I’m a big advocate for it, I think it’s a great thing. I just didn’t have time to drop everything off my shoulders. It was not a time where I could drop the ball, I couldn’t let emotion, fear get over me and stuff like that," he continued. "I didn’t want to go to therapy and not be ready to talk because then I’m just sitting there. I could bullshit my way through anything, I could give you the sense of feeling but no feelings. If I go in there, I gotta be ready to talk. And I wasn’t there."
Instead, he credits his girlfriend Jordyn Woods for helping him get through the difficult times.
"A woman that meant so much to me in my life left my life to be replaced by another woman to take that spot," he said of the passing of his mother just before he was dating the 24-year-old influencer.
"It’s crazy cause we were best friends. I feel like in a way when my mom passed she’s like, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I’m gonna make sure you know who you’re supposed to be with," Towns explained. "[Woods] lost her father four years ago I believe, so I leaned on her because she’s one of those only people who would actually know how I was feeling and what was going through because she was super close with her father just like I was super close with my mother."
Beyond Woods's guidance through his personal journey with grief, Towns said that his girlfriend has taught him a lot more about being a man in this world. "It was not until I got with Jordyn I learned the most important lesson, which was probably the most dangerous lesson of all too. The male ego is the most sensitive and most dangerous thing the world has to offer," he said. "Kind of that notion about males you know don’t cry, they don’t have emotion. They just deal with everything internally. I felt that just wasn’t healthy, especially for where I was in life. It wasn’t healthy for me and I felt that if I was already growing through, most likely there’s another person that’s going through something like me or even worse and they just need someone to say it’s OK, and I just wanted to be that person."
Now, the athlete says that he brings his new approach to mental health with him to the basketball court where he's working to teach his teammates about the importance of maintaining a healthy mind not only through the pandemic but also through the Black Lives Matter movement, which holds significance in Minnesota where his NBA team is based.
"I take the health and mental health of my brothers or teammates, who I call my family, I take it very serious as if it was mine. And for me to be in Minnesota with Philando Castile, George Floyd, it’s hard for me to step into a locker room with so many men of color and try to tell them that their wives of color, their kids of color will be safe here when I don’t even feel safe," he admitted. "After obviously COVID, family stuff and everything, it was a whole different approach. I really learned that you can’t be so worried about being perfect. You just gotta be the best version of yourself. Time runs out."