March 14th, 2020, family and friends gathered for a small dinner to celebrate 50 years of marriage for my parents, Harold and Tomoko Lowe. Conversations and laughter were flowing, and the many smiles reflected the joy in the room and the pride and happiness my parents must have been feeling. It was everything my parents would want to celebrate their lives together- just a humble, happy group of friends and family gathered quietly to celebrate what they considered just another day/year in their lives.
Unbeknownst- this would be my last memory of my father.
The following Wednesday, I called home to tell my parents that I had come down with symptoms of the virus and was getting tested immediately. I would learn that my father had already become ill with flu-like symptoms two days earlier, and was ‘toughing it out’ as he always did. I would suffer dearly with my symptoms that night into Thursday as this virus took flu like chills and sweating to extremes. By the time Friday arrived, along with my results- it was no surprise to me that I was positive for Covid-19. That was March 20th- and I may have been the first identified case in my town. While the call with my results will be remembered, it will always be overshadowed by the next call I made to my parents.
Upon connecting with my mom and telling her of my positive results, I could sense in her voice that something else was worrying her. She informed me that my sister had just left to take my father to the hospital. I knew immediately that he had to be in bad shape to agree to go. He was coming up on 77 years, but he was strong, healthy, and as active as those 10 years younger.
Personally, my symptoms were already dissipating, except for a feeling of being exhausted. My mind and body continually urged me to lay down and nap. Morning, afternoon, or evening- I found myself wanting to stay in my bed. Saturday night, I asked my son to move a zero-gravity deck chair up to my bedroom, to the dismay of my wife, just to have a place to sit down rather than just lay in my bed. It was a move for me to defeat the urge to lay around and it was the decision that made the biggest change in my recovery mentally. As for my father, he was now in the hands of the hospital staff and doctors.
As the nurses updated us over the weekend, my father seemed to be stable and this carried over into the beginning of the week. He continued to struggle with his lungs and and breathing, but it was still a surprise to be awoken in the middle of the night (Thursday Morning) to learn that he needed to be intubated. Why did his condition worsen so fast? Having followed the news of the virus, I had a deep fear of this happening and knew this was not good news in his battle.
My own battle had begun internally over the next week and a half, as life continued on. My mother began to show symptoms, needed to also be admitted, and spent 2 days in the hospital. I had official recovered as my symptoms and quarantine timeline came to an end. Inside, I was bottling my mixed emotions- sadness, anger, relief, and frustration- along with the personal challenges of suffering and recovery for my mother, my sister, and myself. We were all dealing with the virus while everyone else worried about changes to lifestyles and families throughout the NorthEast. My mind was bombarded with thoughts and worries of personal issues, family issues, the virus, lifestyle changes, economics, recovery, etc… and I had to accept that there was no way for me to see my father. Understand and never forget that family members, like myself, had no options to see their struggling family members!
Part of the unprecedented changes in society were rules preventing anyone from visiting patients in the hospital which included my father. While I know that my father would rather limit visitors anyways in normal times, I also know that he would have wanted someone to be there. In his darkest hour, I was prevented from being there to simply hold his hand. In his darkest hour, I felt fortunate that my mother was recovering. In his darkest hour, I felt fortunate that I was recovering and my family remained symptom free. In his darkest hour- I was not there for him.<p class="has-small-font-size" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">(In his darkest hours, I am thankful that the doctors and nurses took our place so he could have someone by his side. They became his family for the 19 days he was there and for this, I am eternally grateful.)
My father’s darkest hours ended 13 days after being intubated, and upon hearing the words from my sister of his passing, my mind went blank. Nothing that can prepare you to hear that you have lost your father, and there I was, standing in front of my wife and kids, trying my best to tell them that ‘Ogi’ (Japanese for Grandfather) had passed away. I had kept my kids informed throughout this ordeal, but like myself, hearing these words came as a surprise and still hurt.
While I expected to sob tears of sadness after my kids and wife were done hugging me, I didn’t. My dad was gone, yet I had no urge to emotionally explode. I had suffered with the updates from the hospital for over 2 weeks, yet I never saw him suffering. My dad was gone, yet I could only visualize seeing him healthy and celebrating 50 years of marriage. My sister had set up a video call through the nurses towards the end, however, I chose not to participate. I chose my last memory of him to be that of celebration, not of intubation. My dad was gone, yet it didn’t seem real.
I have cried multiple times thinking about him. I have cried watching Grey’s Anatomy (Binge watching with my daughter). I have cried at commercials. I have cried at night falling asleep. I have even cried for no reason. These only last a minute or two at most, but they are all in thought of my dad’s passing. These passing moments are recognized, yet I still have this void that has no closure.
My mother and sister have been quarantined with each other and had each other to lean on throughout this time and I am thankful for that. I live 5 miles away from them, yet it was as if I was in California. My mother was fearful to take any chances with this virus- even for a quick hug. A hug that I wanted, a hug that I needed. I know it was not a decision she made lightly, however, it is one that left me on the outside looking in- just as the virus kept me on the outside of my father’s death.
Understand that I know and recognize that all of my family was and is there for me. Physically, my wife and kids were there for hugs and talks anytime I needed. However, there is something about being isolated and away from my mother, my sister, my nieces and nephew, my aunts and uncles, and my cousins that leaves one empty. I had communicated and updated my Aunts, Uncles, and cousins throughout the time period, but we have not been able to gather and reflect on the life of my father- together. We utilized Zoom to provide some resemblance of a gathering, but the lack of physically being together is strikingly impactful. There is no one and nothing at fault for me to hate. The circumstances were all out of my control- and I hate that.
I lost my father to Covid-19; I am not sure that I will have closure; I don’t know if I ever will.