Watched My Father Die of Covid-19

Portrait of smiling man wearing glasses
Portrait of adult daughter and father

Think of someone you love unconditionally. Choose the person who makes your heart fill with joy at a thought: Is it your child, your parent, your partner, your closest friend? Say their name to yourself, take a slow deep breath and close your eyes. Now picture that person in a hospital bed. Machines are beeping. Your person is unconscious, on a ventilator.

The machine is forcing air into their chest, making it rise and fall steadily.

Sometimes the machine sounds an alert because your person is fighting against the ventilator, trying to still maintain some independence.

Picture yourself next to your person, holding a cold, limp hand. It feels heavy because you are doing all the lifting. You catch a glimpse of your own reflection in the window and see a full-body paper suit, surgical gloves, an N95 mask and a face shield. A few minutes ago, the nurses asked you your glove size and you didn’t know how to answer, so now your gloves feel too tight. You realize the staff is telling you how to prepare for your person’s “transition.” That’s a nice way of saying your person is going to die.

Right now. And you will be there when it happens.

You think back to the 10 days before your person was put on a ventilator.

They couldn’t get enough of a breath to relay a verbal will, so the two of you played a game of yes-or-no questions to give your person a chance to lay out their thoughts and end-of-life wishes without wasting air.

Boom, you are back in the ICU with an overwhelming cacophony of beeping. The medical team tells you to look away as they remove the ventilator, and you notice they are making noise to prevent you from hearing your person choking and gasping for air. Then, the room goes quiet.

They have turned off the machines so that the beeps and alarms don’t further upset you. The data does not matter anymore.

Your person gasps. You look at the nurse who assures you it’s normal and apologizes for something your person has just done. Immediately, you are jealous, or resentful, because this nurse knows your person more than you do right now. The nurse tells you your person is gone and shares their condolences. The words mean nothing as your world numbs. You thank them anyway. Suddenly, you don’t know whether to stay or go. You walk out, alone.

My experience was on Friday, Nov. 13. My person was my dad.

His name is George. His name was George. He was funny and giving, and frustrated me at times, and he was overly proud of my brother and I. He wore a mask, and he died of covid-19. George made an impression on people he knew.

To know him was to laugh with him. So why have I spent the past few days worried he will be just a number the news shares each night? More than 1,300 Americans died of covid-19 on Nov. 13. I worry George will be another anonymous statistic presented through jokes and memes about how awful 2020 was.

All I can do now is tell you to take covid-19 seriously. Don’t end up clutching your person’s hand as their body no longer accepts air