体育投注平台Father Michael, a priest my family has never met, in a city we never identified, gave my father a version of the last rites over the telephone on the night of April 4th. My father, John Collins, had received a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia in January. After spending nearly two months undergoing chemotherapy at Duke University Medical Center, in Durham, North Carolina, he was finally discharged from the hospital in mid-March, just as the coronavirus pandemic broke out. He and my mother, Sue, returned to their home in Wilmington. Everyone was scrambling. There were cancelled appointments, appointments rescheduled for Zoom; Zoom appointments cancelled, too, when my father’s new, outpatient doctors, having determined that it was too risky for him to continue commuting to Durham, acknowledged that they couldn’t very well devise a treatment plan without being able to physically examine him.

体育投注平台The coronavirus may have accelerated his decline, or it may not have. Leukemia was the disease at fault. Still, the demands on medical personnel, amid the general chaos, made recovering at home dangerous and dying at home unworkable. On the afternoon of April 3rd, my father entered a hospice center. He had not been a churchgoer in recent years, and hadn’t attended a Catholic church since adolescence. Still, we knew that last rites were something he wanted, so we tried hard to make it happen. In the course of the evening and the next day, my mother called “a zillion friends” to try to rustle up a Catholic officiant. No one local would come. Her friend’s sister-in-law’s acquaintance finally found a willing Father Michael somewhere in California. “Just heard from one priest who does not know how to do FaceTime,” the friend’s sister-in-law texted. “He’s now checking with another priest. If he’s tech savvy, he can do all except the anointing.”

I learned about this when I woke up in Paris on April 5th and checked my WhatsApp messages. “Sorry you missed it, but had to take the call when he rang,” my mother had written, referring to the priest, at 2:39 A.M体育投注平台. I should have had my ringer on. I had also missed a video call at 6:11, and one at 6:13. I called my mother at 6:19, and she told me that my father had died. It took me a few minutes to switch on the light in my bedroom, during which time I appeared to my mother in the form of a pitch-black rectangle. She asked if I wanted to see him, and, not really knowing whether I did, I said yes. First, she aimed the camera at the door (“Mom, that’s the door”), and then she turned it toward the bed, where my father’s body lay. The bad lighting and the slow connection produced greenish, unfiltered alloys of pixel and flesh.

Despite having lived abroad for a decade, I’d always thought of FaceTime as a weak substitute for first-order interaction, whether in person or in writing. Like Diet Coke, it was to be avoided except when there were no other decent options. Better to have the real thing, less frequently, than to settle for constant interruptions and glitches. Video calls are unsatisfying not just because of the lack of touch but because they require mutual active presence. Conversation is only a part of companionship. It’s hard to just be体育投注平台 when you’re on a call, hard to see when you’re constantly looking.

体育投注平台Because of the coronavirus, I was quarantined in France. When we’d last pushed for a prognosis, in early March, my father’s doctors had guessed that he had somewhere between a year and eighteen months left to live. I had a ticket home for March 19th, but, after the pandemic hit, we decided to postpone the visit. Soon, though, it became clear that my father’s condition was deteriorating. The doctors could see it in his blood-cell counts, but I understood that he was dying when, one afternoon, my kids demanded that he do the Funky Chicken, as he often did for them on FaceTime. After a knockout performance—elbows flapping, knees knocking, bent low enough that he could reach down and slap the floor—he collapsed back into his deck chair, and said that he needed to sleep.

I tried to find a way to join him, my mother, and my brother, who lives in Wilmington with his wife and young children. One flight a day was still operating from Paris to the United States. On April 4th, it was headed to Los Angeles. On the fifth, it was going to J.F.K., landing in New York in the late afternoon. To get to Wilmington, I would then either rent a car and drive ten hours or spend the night in a hotel, take a taxi to LaGuardia the next morning, and catch two more flights. In the end, these were fantasy itineraries, dark mirrors of the vacations that people have passed the pandemic imagining in extravagant detail, as a way to transcend confinement and the powerlessness that comes with it. Even if I made it home in time to see my father, I might transmit the coronavirus to my mother, who is seventy, or to other people. I might get stranded, or sick myself, in a country where I don’t have health insurance. Staying in Paris went against all my instincts, but going seemed foolhardy.

The hospice was in lockdown, but it allowed immediate family members to visit at the end of life. A mercy, and a privilege: my father wouldn’t die alone. On his last afternoon, my mother and brother sat at his bedside, occasionally putting an iPhone close to his right ear, the good one, so that I could talk to him. This was a warm moment, the best simulacrum of togetherness that we could create. But it was also distressing for me, because my father wasn’t responding, and my mother and brother couldn’t tell when I was done trying to communicate. I listened while Dad gasped for breath, waiting for someone to reclaim the phone. The ethics of attending to the dying by device are still being written. Do you mute something like that if you can?

The screen, as screens do, kept framing little pictures—grainy grotesques that I wished I could unsee. Still, I eventually took a screenshot, because I was worried about forgetting all the things that, not being there, I hadn’t had a chance to internalize. It showed my dad, his mouth bruised and bleeding a little, dressed in a weirdly pretty white gown with a dark-blue motif that reminded me of chrysanthemums. He was lying in a bed with handles. Three electrical outlets, one of them red, were visible above his head. The image kept popping up in my camera roll every time I tried to send a message or post something. I wanted to delete it, but that felt like another kind of desecration. I ended up e-mailing it to myself, just to get it off my phone, and putting it in an unnamed folder.

体育投注平台As I spoke to my mother on the morning of the fifth, a nurse came into the room to tell her that my father’s possessions—white socks, a phone charger—would be returned to her. The nurse also presented her with a list of undertakers. I listened in, looking, again, at some random door. “They’re awesome, they did my dad,” the nurse’s disembodied voice said, of one mortuary. Unable to see her face, I couldn’t decide what to make of that, so, tuning out, I wandered onto WhatsApp. In the space of three thumb scrolls, my conversations with my dad had gone from “I will stand, this will pass and we will embrace again before you know it” to “I hit my head—so I am in the / JWejhosp.” The final screen showed two pictures I had sent him of my kids, marked “seen” by pairs of blue checks.

Advertisement

For many years, Dad wrote me letters. He was a criminal-defense lawyer, and they invariably came on his office letterhead, written in black ink and posted in a business envelope with an American-flag stamp. He had beautiful, surprising handwriting that, with its geometric strokes and irregular vowels (he used uppercase and lowercase “E”s interchangeably, varying their size to signal capitalization), seemed to hint at a bohemian sensibility that he never explored in life. At some point, I stopped responding to his letters, insisting that the mail was inefficient. He was uninterested in, and even hostile to, technology. He liked physical things: one client, a commercial fisherman, used to pay him in grouper and shrimp. Until very recently, my father didn’t own a cell phone, and, even once he did, he rarely had it with him. This hurt me, because I thought that, in rejecting e-mailing and texting and all the other things that humans have created to facilitate communication at a distance, he was rejecting me.

The morning of his death, after I hung up with my mother, I typed his name into the search bar in my Gmail. Twenty-two messages came up, more than I’d expected. All of them were written between 2009 and 2011. I’d set up an account for him as a Christmas present, writing, “Give this a try, if you can stand it? There are so many things I’d love to share with you that just fall through the cracks, for lack of anywhere to send them.” This was sort of like buying my dad a gift certificate to a restaurant that served food he hated and then inviting him out to dinner. But, for a while, he gave it a shot. In person, we had a game where we liked to say Camilla Parker Bowles’s name with the emphasis on different syllables: Camilla Par-ker Bowles, Ca-mill-a Parker Bowles, Camilla Parker Bowles. Once, I sent him a link to a Daily Mail article about how she had broken her leg by stumbling into a rabbit hole while hill walking in Scotland. “It is a bit worrisome!” he wrote. “However, most rabbits live in a shallow hill called a form. Shrubs, leaves, grasses, or weeds hide the BOWL-shaped form from sight. So this misadventure may have been predestined by our beloved duchess’s last name. Cheerio.”

My father knew every state nickname, team mascot, and national capital, and passed that knowledge on to his children, along with a slew of what he proudly acknowledged were useless facts. One of his e-mails to me expressed delight at the existence of Eyjafjallajökull, the Icelandic volcano that was, at the time, covering much of northern Europe in an ash cloud. An alnager, he wanted me to know, was a person whose job it was to inspect and certify woollens.

体育投注平台Social distancing would, I knew, preclude a traditional funeral. I was desperate to share something of my dad, to try to make it so that he didn’t disappear through a trapdoor of global disorder. I went on Twitter and posted a picture of him giving a speech at my wedding, along with one of my husband and me looking back at him. Because my father didn’t have the cloud to do his remembering for him, he saved things. In the picture, he’s holding a laminated piece of loose-leaf paper: a poem that he’d dug up, written by me in the first grade, declaring that I wanted to travel the world and see “all the countries, Romania, Greece, and all.”

On Twitter, I wrote that for decades he had carried in his pocket a lucky purple rock I’d given him; that he’d recorded every species of bird he ever saw, beginning with a red-winged blackbird at Alley Pond Park, in Queens, when he was fourteen; that he’d stopped drinking at the age of sixty-nine. These were some of the things that, under normal circumstances, I would like to have said in front of a packed church. I didn’t have enough space to explain that, in one of the e-mails I’d retrieved, he talked about how much he loved his work, quoting the passage in “The Catcher in the Rye” in which Holden Caulfield pledges to “catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff.” He had written, “I am the Catcher in the Rye for my clients; I hope.”

Hundreds of kind people replied—friends, professional acquaintances, complete strangers. A John Collins in Nottingham, England, wrote, “For obvious reasons, this tweet stopped me in my tracks when I saw it today. I’m really sorry to hear of your loss.” A reporter from the Times offered her condolences, adding a link to a story she’d written about the transformation of mourning during the pandemic. “We may be about to confront death on a scale few of us have ever known, while being stripped of time-honored consolations: wakes, funerals, shivas,” it read. “When the hour calls for togetherness, we will be apart.” It felt strange knowing that my family and I were now members of a “vanguard” that we’d never aspired to join, reinventing grief in an era of enforced isolation. An article in Le Monde体育投注平台 about the phenomenon quoted Émile Durkheim saying that “any communion of consciousness, in whatever form it takes place, enhances social vitality.” That seemed positive, plus we’d decided that, in our new role as bereavement disrupters, we could dispense with the hearse and, for that matter, an officiant.

I remembered how tenderly my father spoke at his own mother’s funeral Mass, describing her in a shirtwaist dress, greeting him when he came home from school. The Church rituals had left my brother, more familiar with cremation than with Catholicism, puzzled. “Is that Grandma?” he’d asked, as the priest walked down the aisle swinging a thurible. My mother was sad that she wouldn’t get to meet all the strangers—people from the courthouse, people he’d got out of jail—who had been a part of my father’s life. She and my brother buried him on Good Friday, just the two of them and the awesome undertaker. I put on a silk blouse and dialled in with my husband. My sister-in-law didn’t go, because they couldn’t get a babysitter.

体育投注平台Diseases don’t have personalities—my father’s leukemia wasn’t any more “aggressive” than it was quietly efficient—but, if they did, the coronavirus would be a bureaucrat. It is not an equalizer, as we’ve seen from the obscene rates of infection and death among African-Americans; nor is it a unifier, as we’ve seen from David Geffen’s drone selfie of his yacht. The pandemic is capricious. Even if it doesn’t kill you, it can wield power over your life in a range of ways, from bankrupting you to making you gain five pounds. It isn’t above the petty insult, and it doesn’t care about your special case.

Parents die every day, and often their children don’t get to be there with them. It’s a fluke that I ended up watching my father die on FaceTime, whereas it’s policy that millions of people who don’t have the money or the right passport are forced to be separated from their loved ones for years, or even lifetimes. Some of the free-floating grief that the coronavirus has unleashed among the otherwise rich, safe, and secure is actually grievance: the computer’s saying no, the universe won’t make an exception no matter what you try.

Advertisement

体育投注平台I worry about my mother, drawing comfort from the potted plants that friends are leaving on her porch—Mexican heather; rosemary, for remembrance. She went from living with her parents and eight siblings to a college dormitory, and then directly into marriage. For the first time in her life, she’s alone, in a house full of orchids. My father is buried in a cemetery in their neighborhood. When I was a kid, we rode bikes there, bringing plastic sleeves full of sweating bread to feed to the ducks, stuffing our pockets with feathers and with artificial flowers that had blown off the gravestones. My mother has been walking over to the cemetery in the afternoons to “say hi” to Dad. A few days after the burial, as she approached, she saw an unfamiliar man standing near my father’s grave. By the time she reached it, he had got back in his car. She introduced herself through the open window. The man, seeming uncomfortable, didn’t give his name, saying only that my father had known and helped his kids. He drove off before my mother could learn more. But, by being there, alone and presumed unseen, he made our family feel that my father might have had a proper sendoff in ways that we haven’t yet fathomed.

My father’s death was complicated by the coronavirus, not caused by it. Losing someone you love in the midst of a pandemic that has taken more than two hundred thousand lives is a great lesson in proportion. In a way, mourning under quarantine has a sense to it. Pain is cruel because it doesn’t stop the world from turning, but, for now, the world has stopped turning, relative to its usual pace. I have quiet in which to remember my father, at a moment when the mention of death isn’t going to upset anyone’s dinner party. My friends and family have the time to send their stories (“Remember when he accidentally cut into my wedding cake?”), their impressions (“Your Dad was like the American you hope to meet before you come to America”), their photos (“Mr. Collins—Karaoke.jpeg”). My husband, Olivier, showed me a twenty-third e-mail. My father had sent it to him, nearly a decade ago, when we had briefly broken up. “Olivier, I am sorry for the recent troubles in your and Lauren’s lives,” he had written. “You are a wonderful man in your own right. You are a wonderful man as Lauren’s companion. I hope after frank discussion you will be able to renew your lives together with fresh visions and goals.”

The most unexpected thing for me about my father’s death, in a turbulent moment and at a great remove, is that he has never seemed more alive. Through the eyes of others, I see him so clearly. I realize how courageous he was, how vivacious—a word that’s almost never used to describe a man, but which seems, better than any other, to capture how he smiled his way through brutal sickness, leaving it all on the dance floor until the very last. My father had a susceptible streak, was hopeless with money, struggled with alcohol. Had he not married someone who had none of those traits, and then channelled his energy into strict routines of work and family, he could have ended up with a very different life. What I long took for apathy in his lack of a need to communicate I now understand as something closer to contentment—the acquiescence of a man who was deeply happy that everything turned out basically all right.

体育投注平台On the afternoon of the day my father died, I did what I had planned to do anyway, which was to bake a chocolate cake for the staff of Robert Debré Hospital, in the Nineteenth Arrondissement. I had to take it to a neighborhood drop-off point, so I located my socks and shoes, put on a mask, and printed out an attestation saying that I was going out for a legitimate purpose. When I opened the door to my apartment, there was a parcel, wrapped in newsprint, sitting on the doormat. A friend had braved the lockdown to deliver it.

体育投注平台I opened it up and found a letter, accompanied by objects of succor that she had been able to gather from around her apartment: four amaretti, a bunch of dried daisies, and a taper candle, blue like the sky. A week earlier, my parents had received a check from their insurance company, a payment on a cancer policy. My dad had said that he wanted to use it to fly to Paris, “first class.” I lit the candle that night and tried to make that trip come true for him. My friend had written, “We are left to face this with what we have: our hearts, beating sadness and love, and our imaginations, this underused magical power.” ♦


A Guide to the Coronavirus