By Heather Rich/El Inde
On the evening of March 28, I had just finished a puzzle when I left the kitchen to check my phone. I had two missed calls from my mom followed by a text message that read “please call me.” I received the news no one wants to receive during a pandemic: My father, Ronnie Rich, 65, had just passed away that day due to complications with the coronavirus.
Eight days before my father’s passing, he’d sent me a photo of him wearing a surgical face mask with an accompanying text that said, “Chest X-ray. Prob nothing but I have all the symptoms now.”
He was admitted into the hospital with double pneumonia three days later and later that week tested positive for Covid-19. I was not completely aware of how sick my father was during his time in the hospital because we were still communicating. His responses were short and sometimes did not make sense, but I would frequently send him words of encouragement hoping he would respond.
The day after hearing the news about my father, I went to see my mom in the Catalina Foothills. I walked into her house and we immediately got on a Zoom call with my older sister Becky, 30, my older brother Marc, 27, and my younger brother Evan, 21.
At the beginning, my brothers were trying to lighten the mood with jokes and funny stories about our father, but eventually the talk turned serious when the topic of my father’s funeral became inevitable. During that call, my mother mentioned a potential burial date, April 1, but there were a couple of interfering factors that were out of our control.
My father passed away in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he was living at the time, but wished to be buried with his family in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. We were not sure if an airline would agree to transport a former Covid-19 patient and we were worried the government was possibly going to mandate every victim to be cremated.
During the call with my siblings, my mother and I were set on flying to Alabama for the burial, but soon changed our minds when we reflected on the risks we would be taking in flying during a pandemic.
Not being able to say that final goodbye to my father in person was one of the hardest realities I have ever had to face. What put me at peace with my decision not to go was a phone call I’d have with my aunt Bobbye, my father’s younger sister.
“This is not going to be a celebration of your dad’s life,” she told me slowly, with her southern accent. She explained how it was going to feel like a procedure to quickly get him in the ground.
The burial took place on April 4 — the same day his father had been buried in 1983 and on Aunt Bobbye’s birthday. My sister, her husband Jared, my aunt and her husband Michael were the only ones who attended the burial.
My uncle had sent me a few videos of the burial because he knew how devastated I was not being there and felt that by filming it would make me feel as if I were there. The passage that stood out to me the most was when they shoveled dirt onto the casket. There was something sobering about hearing the sound the dirt made when it hit his casket. But also, thanks to that video, all the stress and anxiety I felt about whether or not my father would make it to his desired resting place was lifted.
Suddenly, I was tasked with writing the obituary. This process was foreign for me, but I was flattered by the request. I was the one who was picked out of all the family and friends who knew my dad for who he was.
In the obituary, I described my father as “a talented musician who played many instruments. Ronnie’s greatest accomplishment was his children. He was very proud of them and bragged about them whenever he could. He had a good sense of humor even though he was serious a lot of the time but was not afraid to laugh at himself and make jokes whenever he felt the mood needed to be lightened. He had a big heart and cared for his friends and family. His advice was second to none and he always ended up being right.”
It was a privilege. My older brother, Marc, originally wanted to write it but after his first attempt, my aunt Bobbye decided to have me write it. I talked with her about how it should be written and what needed to be included. It was a lot of pressure, having the responsibility to sum up who my father was. I spoke with my siblings to understand what their relationship with our father had been to accurately depict him.
Besides taking my dad from me, the Covid-19 virus has completely changed the course of my future. School no longer feels like a priority as I try to make my everyday life feel as normal as possible. Not being able to escape the news and the reality of quarantine makes it even harder to move on with my own life.
I keep reflecting on this moment I had with my roommate, Gabby, before spring break happened. We were sitting on the couch in our apartment and I remember telling her that I felt we wouldn’t understand how serious this virus actually was until it personally affected us or someone we know. Now it has personally affected me. And, now I know exactly how bad this is and how much worse it is going to get.