Monday, March 8, 2021

COVID grief: ‘Did he know I loved him?’

A piping plover.
     He liked cats and bullfights, served in the Illinois National Guard during the Vietnam War and once ran a goat farm in Arizona. He taught computer programming and worked in the reptile house at the Lincoln Park Zoo.
     He was varied and contradictory, as people often are, the good ones anyway, and after he died in January of COVID-19, his wife of 40 years grasped at the air where he had been. Part of that process was to write to me. There was guilt. For nearly a year, the couple lived like monks in a cell, going out only for doctors’ visits. She thinks that’s what killed him.
     “I am sure I was exposed in the waiting room of a medical office, and I brought it home,” she wrote.
Red-shouldered hawk
     Yes, he was high risk: overweight, diabetes, high blood pressure. Lots of people fit that description. It doesn’t mean you deserve to die.
     He went to the hospital, stayed two days, but was sent home over her objection.
   “I wanted him to stay,” she wrote. “Just over 24 hours later, I found him on the floor, nearly unconscious, and he was transported to the hospital by ambulance again. This time he had a pulmonary embolism and hypoxia. Three days later he was on a ventilator, and one system after another began to fail. He was removed from machines, and he died.”
     What was her husband like? He “made friends wherever he went. He was bright, funny, generous, caring and always interesting. His reserve of facts, especially about history, was amazing. He always supported me in everything I did.”
     He was many things, really. He collected first editions and stamps. He liked to take photographs of birds.
     “He loved birds and was constantly reading and learning about them and trying to add to his life list,” she wrote. “We spent a day recently at Machias Seal Island in Maine photographing puffins. His bird photography often won awards at the Crystal Lake Camera Club.”

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Japanese white-eye.

Photos are by one of the 524,000 Americans lost to COVID-19 this year.


  1. I still run into people who think the pandemic is overblown, fake news, even after 520,000 deaths. People where I live are abandoning masks as if the threat is over, crowding into restaurants and bars. By focusing on the human face of this terrible pandemic you are doing a great service. A wonderful article.

  2. Thanks for this memory of someone I never met.

  3. Stunning photos. What a loss.

  4. Lovely photos and a poignant column.

    Her love shines through; I’m sure he knew and returned it in equal measure.

  5. This is just too sad for words. So I won't even try.

    I'm a kitty guy, and not really a bird guy...but those are some amazing images.

  6. The photos are amazing and the story is wonderfully told.


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