In memory of all the fathers lost to COVID-19

In April, I lost my dad to COVID-19, and this Father’s Day is going to be very difficult.  As I was thinking about this, it occurred to me that there are many people out there suffering the same fate.  Each death is not just a statistic.  Each number represents a person with a family.   My dad was an amazing father, husband, uncle, grandfather, and friend, and he will be missed.

As difficult as it was to watch my father succumb to this terrible virus (and I cannot say enough wonderful things about the doctors and nurses who took care of him), I am also sensitive to the suffering of those trying to control the spread of the pandemic.   As a pediatrician, I interact with families all day long.  I care for children from every socioeconomic, racial, and religious background.  All are faced with challenges around this pandemic.

Like the death count, the unemployment numbers are also just statistics.  They don’t tell the human stories that I hear every day.  I hear from parents who have lost jobs and are worried about meeting their family’s basic needs.  Parents who have lost their health insurance and now have extra fear around getting sick in the midst of a pandemic.  There are stressors from parents who are lucky enough to have kept their jobs but are trying to work from home while caring for their children.  There are difficulties around online schooling that impact students, parents, and teachers for a variety of different reasons, and this situation is widening the educational divide between the haves and the have nots.    Children are missing graduations, college campuses, and just time with friends.  They are feeling socially isolated and scared and are developing increased levels of anxiety and depression.

Despite all the despair, there are glimmers of hope.  With slower schedules and fewer pressures, some kids are showing less anxiety.  One teen recently told me that she is rethinking her priorities because she thinks she has been overscheduling herself.  Many parents are enjoying the increased time with family, and some are hoping to continue to work from home.  It is also inspiring to see how many people have started charities to meet the needs of people in the community during these difficult times.

COVID-19 has stolen many lives, and the efforts to control it have caused social and economic damage.  Unfortunately, the threat is far from over, and the way through is not clear.  As we reopen, let’s do so thoughtfully. If we take a measured approach (something my dad always recommended), we will strike the best balance between saving individual lives and creating the least collateral damage.  There is no pain-free way through this mess, but some path needs to be chosen.  As we navigate through this, I find it helpful to focus on what I am grateful for, the glimmers of hope, and the acts of kindness all around me.

Here are my personal thanks:  I am grateful that my mom fought back and survived COVID-19 for without that, I would have been writing this for Mother’s Day instead of Father’s Day.  I am grateful for my sisters, who helped me get through this terrible time. I am grateful for more time with my husband and kids and for family dinners, which never seemed to happen before.   I am grateful to have meaningful work and to have the opportunity to care for and learn from my patients every day. I am grateful that this pandemic is helping me learn to live with and accept uncertainty and to reevaluate my priorities.  Most of all, I am grateful to have had 50 years with my dad, who lived to be 87!

I wish we could say that no more fathers would be lost to COVID-19 but the best we can do is appreciate those who are still here and honor those we’ve lost.  Happy Father’s Day to all!

Jennifer Shaer is a pediatrician. 

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