Day after day, Abby Adair Reinhard collapsed out of her home office around dinner time, her father’s sudden death from COVID-19 still fresh on her mind. Working to keep her flooring business afloat and worried about her mother’s health, she had little time for her three young children.
“I was going out to see my kids and I was like, ‘Oh, well, at least they’re all still alive,’ she said. “And that’s horrible to admit.”
Reinhard’s father, who died in April, was among the first Americans to die of what at the time was a new virus sweeping the country. Donald Adair, 76, had gone to the hospital after a fall and caught the virus from his hospital bed.
For agonizing hours, Reinhard, 42, and his three siblings listened to his labored breathing as he slowly weakened and died, one of some 1,500 Americans who died on April 6.
Daily deaths from the infection are now about twice as high, and now nearly 500,000 have died, many of them alone in hospital beds as a result of anguished and laborious phone calls to members of the hospital. their family.
Ten months after her father’s death, Reinhard and her family in Rochester, New York, still grapple with their loss – and the loss of the community she once thought she could count on. While most people are raising families, there are still some who trigger stabbing pain asking, “How old was he? Does he have any underlying health issues?”
Each question sounds like an insult.
“It’s like, how does that matter?” Reinhard said, anger rising in his voice. “Does it feel good that he’s dead?” He is dead. He shouldn’t be dead.
Across the country, the virus has reshaped daily life, from low-paid workers forced to stay at work so they could feed their families and keep their health care, to middle-class families who suddenly had to go to school. the House. kids, 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 drink, barber shops operate under heavy restrictions and small businesses remain closed, many permanently. The virus has hit poor and marginalized communities the hardest: Coronavirus deaths among people of color are 1.2 to 3.6 times higher than among white Americans.
Like most families, Reinhard’s has struggled with school closures and mask warrants, weighing personal safety against a semblance of normalcy every day. The children returned to the virtual school in early September under the supervision of a daily babysitter, and twice a week Reinhard’s mother, a retired teacher, comes to help them with their schoolwork.
Routine helps. But very little is normal.
Anxiety. Nightmares. The ubiquitous smell of hand sanitizer. Nails stuck in the side of her thumb. Rush in front of unmasked people at the dentist. Five extra pounds of all the extra desserts.
Even the photos of her smiling family shared on Facebook are deceptive, she said.
“I feel like I went through this healing process with a wound that keeps opening up again,” she said. “Being okay with not being well was a big step for me. I know I’m not the best of myself.”
To compound her anxiety, her children are missing out on a normal childhood. Day in and day out, they stay at home with little outside interaction, their isolation being the price his family is paying to help slow the spread of the pandemic. Reinhard acknowledges that many Americans have chosen to ignore public health recommendations, which means they are living much 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 any friends, ”said Reinhard. “They haven’t played with other kids since March. I know other families have, but we chose not to do this. And that’s a big deal. A year in the life of a young child is an eternity. “
The days follow a familiar pattern: Kids take classes online while Reinhard runs his flooring business from his home office, which has grown to provide virus disinfection services. Reinhard has abandoned his office at company headquarters so that workers who must enter have safe places to sit.
She occasionally publishes and writes, including a pre-election poem on voting power. She exchanges text messages with her siblings, all still stunned by the death of their father. In a rare treat, she and her husband Josh celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary in August by renewing their vows and dining alone on an outdoor patio.
For a few years before her death, Reinhard and her father were not as close as she would have liked. She had worked to fix this in the months leading up to her unexpected death. She is grateful every day for making this effort.
“If I hadn’t done this, I would live with so much more pain and regret now that he’s gone,” she says. “Recently, I have been working on forgiving myself and forgiving myself for every chance I have. I’m angry with those who don’t take COVID seriously, and I’m angry with myself for battling anxiety. it frees up space inside of me. “
Reinhard knows his family has it better than many. They have a roof over their heads, and their business is moving forward. They can afford to put food on the table and even manage to celebrate the holidays by pretending to have traveled to Las Vegas, erecting a fake skyline, and posing for photos.
“Tactically, I don’t go out much. The real visceral sense that I might lose my other parent reinforces our need to be careful,” she says. “I appreciate the little things more now too. It’s a cliché but it’s true, and it’s important that I continue this after COVID.
This is why her encounters with COVID deniers still hold her back. Even after all the deaths, the hospitalizations, the trauma of seeing family members and loved ones disappear, people still act as if the virus is some kind of hoax or political ploy. His brother, Tom, even posted their father’s death certificate on Facebook showing his cause of death: respiratory failure caused by COVID-19.
“I don’t advocate living in fear, but I advocate taking care of others,” Reinhard said. “To have people in my life who know what we’ve been through that don’t take it seriously? For many others, it wasn’t until they lost someone who was real, what if they haven’t lost anyone, well, they still haven’t. “
Reinhard’s mother was vaccinated in early February, giving her hope that doctors and scientists across the country will turn the tide. She doesn’t know when life will return to normal in Rochester, but she hopes things will be safer by the fall, when her children can return to classes in person.
She thinks a lot about how the pandemic has revealed some uncomfortable truths about the way we live our lives. For her part, she is grateful for the opportunity to get closer to family, but wonders what the long-term impacts will be on communities following bitter disputes over safety and wearing masks.
“I think the core of our nation’s identity is this idea of robust individualism. It has worked well for us for two centuries. But now we’re all so connected – what’s good for the group is too. for the individual, ”she said. “For us, staying safe is keeping the Grammys safe.”