Juniper Disco | Fragments of Grief
My Dad died from COVID on November 20, 2020. Today would have been his 85th birthday. 💛
Writing is a kind of revenge against circumstance too: bad luck, loss, pain. If you make something out of it, then you've no longer been bested by these events.
Three days after my dad died from COVID, he sent me a magical rainbow. From my usual perch on the couch I caught a glimpse of it directly through the window. Once outside, I could see it was a full bow, set against a blazing pink sunset sky. There has never, ever been one on that side of the house before.
Someone told me that when her husband died she too saw a rainbow — a signal that he had arrived in Heaven. Dad, like myself, was not a believer. But if there is a Heaven, he’s most definitely there. I’m sure Nana found him right away and has been talking his ear off. And Mary, my mother-in-law, who died only six weeks before him, is asking him questions about her beloved sons. She had the coronavirus, too.
I read somewhere that most people die between 2:00 am and 5:00 am. I woke up suddenly that morning around the time I later learned that he had passed. I was sitting alone in the dark on my couch when the call came. My husband was in New Jersey cleaning out the home he grew up in. I answered on the first ring. “Dad’s gone.” It was the second early morning gut punch of a phone call we had gotten in six weeks.
Those last conversations I had with him, when I was competing with the deafening sound of the oxygen they were forcing into his lungs, are both treasure and torture for me. I know everything he said to me in those last few weeks because I wrote every word down in a notebook. Pages of notes, no dates, just days of the week listed at the top. Pages filled with his words, my questions, status updates from my stepmom so I knew what to share in the family text, and lots of doodled arrows I drew. Arrows pointing up. Left. Right. Down. Every which way. Like my world.
From news reports you’d think that everyone who dies from COVID is put in a medical coma and is unaware of what is happening to them. My dad was well enough and aware enough to be bored. BORED. He complained about the “postage stamp size TV” he couldn’t see.
Dad spent his entire life engaging his mind. He read more books than anyone I know and was working through the Great Courses. He just finished one on Transcendentalism. Having no interesting input for his active mind was cruel torment on top of it all. He was angry, struggling, scared, reassuring, realistic, hopeful. He was making plans to play golf again.
Two weeks later, I discovered I had some of his voicemails on my phone. When I can’t sleep, I sob in the dark listening to his voice while I play endless games of virtual mah jongg.
Sometimes I whisper an anguished “Daddy” into the empty space around me. That one word a vessel for all the grief that has built up in my heart.
He could fix anything. Growing up, I would leave all my broken things on his desk. A few days later they’d be returned to me, fixed. Even if my Barbies came back with an extra glob of glue on their neck, he’d find a way to may things whole. COVID was the one thing he couldn’t fix. I know he really, really wanted to. We were desperate to get him back, extra globs of glue and all.
I got my good wavy hair, skin that tans easily, and terrible eyesight from him. People always said they could tell we were related.
He always had a camera in hand. My interest in capturing the world around me comes directly from him. We have hours of home movies and boxes of photographs he took. The last time he was here, I filmed him taking photos of the Provincetown Harbor.
My dad was an archivist’s dream, a meticulous documenter of his life. He kept every golf score card, every piece of graph paper from his beloved APBA baseball games, every program from our band concerts. He had lifelong hobbies that sustained him. He finished things — he built model planes and conquered massive tomes, the likes of James Michener and War and Peace. He wasn’t afraid of big books.
I never had a conversation with him that didn’t include politics. He considered himself an independent, but most conversations started with “those goddamn Republicans.” He bought me a pin when I was nine that said “Reagan is not my president.” During our last conversation the day before he died, he gathered all his strength, all his seething anger, to declare, “I 100% blame That Son of a Bitch for me being here.” Me, too, Dad.
I take some comfort in imagining him haunting Trump. Him and the 300,000+ other souls we lost.
I’m so angry that his story ends this way. He was so careful. He followed the rules his whole life. He stayed home and wore his mask. I refuse to allow the reckless, careless people who didn’t wear masks turn his life into a cautionary tale. His is a Hero’s Journey.
The thing I most want to do is snuggle up next to him and take his arm and put my head on his shoulder. I would tell him thank you and I’m sorry and I love you.
I posted this video of us at Nauset Beach when it looked like he was going to be ok, when they were talking about his release. We all thought he was coming home.
Each COVID death impacts an average of nine family members. By today’s death number, that’s over 2.7 million people. 2.7 MILLION. All going through this same hell.
For anyone finding their way through this — as one of those 2.7 million or as someone trying to support one of us — the hour-long documentary, Speaking Grief, “explores the transformative experience of losing a family member in a death- and grief-avoidant society.”