Dr. Carrie Adair, Assistant Director and well-being researcher (picture above, middle), shares her personal story from the COVID-19 pandemic of loss, love, and family support during tragedy.
Calling Home, Together
by Carrie Adair, June 2020
“Oh no…” I turned to my husband, “my dad has COVID-19.”
It was a Saturday night in early April when I received the news from my aunt. My dad had been in the hospital in Rochester, NY for a few days due to a fall. He was going to be released in a day or two, but a pre-symptomatic patient spread COVID-19 down his hall.
“Ok Carrie, don’t freak out,” I told myself. “Mortality rates are pretty low, he’s not young at 76, but Dad’s always been a strong guy. Plus he’s getting good care. It will hopefully be ok…”
My sister Abby called in the morning with an update: Along with Dad, about a dozen workers caught it, and an unknown number of other patients. The hospital hadn’t implemented a masking policy at that time. We were shaken and worried, but hopeful. She was about to hear from the doctor and would call me back. I said a prayer and turned my attention back to my two month old baby.
The moment I heard my sister’s voice when she called back, I knew. “I spoke with the doctor, and he’s.. he’s not going to make it. His lungs… it got bad so quickly… he doesn’t have much time” My eyes welled up and my breathing became shallow. “But Carrie, the nurse was able to put his phone on his shoulder…” she told me that my Dad and my brother Tom (who lives in Texas) were actually on the other line, and she would connect the four of us. “Say what you need to say Carrie,” she told me.
I tried to not let my shaky voice convey my fear, my shock, and my deep, deep sadness. I don’t think I was very successful. What I said initially, I’m not sure. Some mix of “I love you, I’m sorry, I’m here…”. Dad couldn’t speak, but he could hear us. Abby added our sister Emily, who lives in Denmark, to the call. And there we were, all five of us on the line for the call that no one wants to ever have to have.
We reminisced our cherished memories, trips we took, holidays, graduations. We remembered singing around the campfire and how my dad would pluck out the chords to Peter, Paul, and Mary songs on his guitar. We even sang some of them on the call – ‘Michael Row the Boat Ashore’, ‘He’s got the whole world in in his hands’. I struggled to sing through my tears and the tightness in my throat. I’m not sure we sounded very good, but I hope Dad liked our attempt. We told him again and again how much we loved him. How we were all there with him. How we would stay on the line.
And stay we did. Even though the doctor didn’t initially give him much time, we stayed on the line with Dad for 36 hours. Dallas, Rochester, Raleigh, and Copenhagen – all connected. We would mute ourselves when we ate, spoke to our spouses, or took care of our children. But even through the night we would tell Dad, “we love you, we’re here”, punctuating our snippets of sleep.
Hearing Dad breathe was the background drum beat of the call. At times it would stop and we would fear the worst, only to learn that the phone had slipped from his shoulder.
As the second night closed in, my siblings and I decided to give ourselves some sleep (it’s what Dad would want us to do). We stayed on the line in case we wanted to say something. I told Dad, “I love you so much”, put the phone on my nightstand, and fell asleep. At midnight I woke up. The call had dropped and there was a text from Abby, “Give me a call when you get up”. My heart sank as I tiptoed into another room. “He’s gone, Care.”
He passed just an hour after Abby, the last one on the line with him, had set her phone down.
Even though we couldn’t be with him in person as he passed, our call gave us the chance to all be connected one last time. For this I will always be deeply grateful.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Abby had been journaling during our experience. She shared her heartbreaking but beautiful writing with friends and family, and then on Facebook. The response was incredible. Her journal and our story was picked up by the local news, and then the national news – Yahoo, USA Today, CNN. Abby was even interviewed by Anderson Cooper. We kept hearing that our story made people take the virus more seriously – they were more likely to socially distance and wear masks. Some even told us they reconnected with estranged family members they hadn’t spoken to in years. Maybe some good could come out of our loss. I know that my Dad, a kind man who always wanted the best for others, would be glad to hear this.