A Year After a father’s Coronavirus Death, a Family Struggles to Confront their Loss

Abby Adair Reinhard at her wedding with her father, Donald Adair. He lived in the Rochester, N. Y., area his entire life, except for when he was in college and law school. Handout Photo Abby Adair Reinhard

Day after day, Abby Adair Reinhard slumped out of her home office around dinnertime, her father’s abrupt COVID-19 death still fresh in her mind. Working to keep her flooring business afloat and worried about her mother’s health, she had little time for her three young kids.

“I would come out see my kids and think, ‘oh, good, at least they are all still alive,” she said. “And that’s horrible to admit.”

Reinhard’s father, who passed away in April, was among the first Americans to die of what at the time was a new virus sweeping the nation. Donald Adair, 76, had gone into the hospital after a fall and caught the virus from his hospital bed.

For agonizing hours, Reinhard, 42, and her three siblings listened to his labored breathing as he slowly weakened and died, one of about 1,500 Americans who passed away on April 6.

Daily deaths from the infection are now roughly twice that, and now nearly 500,000 have died, many of them alone in hospital beds following anguished, labored phone calls to family members.

Ten months after her father’s death, Reinhard and her family in Rochester, New York, are still struggling with their loss— and the loss of the community she once thought she could count on. While most people lift up her family, there are still some who unleash stabbing pain as they ask, “how old was he? Did he have underlying health conditions?”

Each question feels like an insult.

“It’s like, how does that even matter?” Reinhard said, anger rising in her voice. “Does that make it OK that he died? He’s dead. He shouldn’t be dead.”

Across the country, the virus has reshaped daily life, from the low-paid workers forced to remain on the job so they can feed their families and keep their healthcare, to the middle-class families who’ve suddenly had to home-school their children, cancel vacations and skip Thanksgiving dinners with loved ones.

Tens of millions of families face eviction, and as many as 10 million remain unemployed as restaurants limp along, hair salons operate under heavy restrictions and small businesses remain shuttered, many permanently. The virus has hit poor and marginalized communities the hardest: Coronavirus deaths for people of color are 1.2 to 3.6 times higher than for white Americans.

Like most families, Reinhard’s has battled through school closures and mask mandates, each day weighing personal safety against some semblance of normality. The kids went back to virtual school in early September under the supervision of a daily sitter, and twice a week Reinhard’s mom, a retired teacher, comes in to help with their schoolwork.

The routine helps. But very little is normal.

Anxiety. Nightmares. The ever-present smell of hand sanitizer. Fingernails jammed into the side of her thumb. Rushing past unmasked people at the dentist’s office. Five extra pounds from all the extra desserts.

Even photos of her smiling family shared on Facebook feel misleading, she said.

“I feel like I’ve been going through this process of healing with a wound that keeps getting ripped open again,” she said. “Being OK with not being OK was a big step for me. I know that I’m not my best self.”

Compounding her anguish, her kids are missing out on a normal childhood. Day after day, they sit at home with little outside interaction, their isolation the price her family pays to help slow the pandemic’s spread. Reinhard acknowledges that many Americans have chosen to ignore public health recommendations, which means they’re living far more normal lives.

Doing the right thing hurts, she said.

“My youngest, the other day, she said, ‘I don’t have a best friend. I don’t have friends,'” Reinhard said. “They haven’t played with other children since March. I know other families have, but we’ve chosen not to do that. And that’s a big deal. A year in the life of a young kid is such an eternity.”

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SOURCE: USA TODAY, Trevor Hughes