Nicole Melanson ~
Last week, my father passed away from COVID-19 after the virus ran rampant through his nursing home. To say I’m devastated would be an understatement.
My relationship with my dad has always been complicated due to a brain injury he suffered when I was nine years old. I spent decades mourning everything that that one, life-changing event stole from all of us, but as an adult, I found comfort in the connection that remained, unconventional as it was. I also got a lot of mileage out of memories:
My father taught himself harmonica in the Navy and loved to play for me.
He was a whizz at Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, and Frogger.
He bought me my first cassette tapes: The Mamas & The Papas and Olivia Newton-John.
He gave me my first (and last!) taste of Dr. Pepper while we were watching Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan at the Cabot.
He used to take me to Salem Willows, Winter Island, and Lynch Park to see the rose garden blooming.
I remember banging pots and pans on his mother’s kitchen floor when I was a toddler.
I remember his elderly Irish aunts feeding me candies from a fancy glass dish in their parlor.
I remember his sister sending me books every Christmas and birthday.
When my father and my stepmother married, I was thrilled to be the flower girl in their wedding.
For as long as I can recall, I’ve compartmentalized my feelings in order to deal with them, so it’s jarring now to find my father’s death part of a global pandemic in which everyone on the planet has a stake. I’ve never felt like my family’s story fit the mainstream narrative before, and the mental fatigue of suddenly being tied to all those other stories is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
There’s always been a political side to my father’s situation, but that political noise feels deafening now. While the rhetoric around disability has evolved since my childhood, the idea that some lives are worth more than others still pervades almost every discussion about public health and medical care. Grief is hard enough without having to listen to people debate the value of the person you’re grieving.
I am also struggling with the tyranny of distance. It feels wrong to be remembering my father’s life while surrounded by palm trees and withering frangipanis instead of oaks and maples and birches and pines. And the sea. I miss the sea more than anything else. I should be near the Atlantic Ocean right now. It feels like my blood is pulling against the tide.
A friend of mine says immigration is a trauma—words that resonate deeply with me this month. In times of adversity, being away from your home and unable to return is traumatic. Our childhood landscape, climate, language etc. provide a refuge that becomes impossible to replicate anywhere else. I long to be in my father’s space, surrounded by the things he knew and loved. I also wish I could be with my brother, who understands all of this better than anyone else in the world.
I’ll carry other touchstones from this time, but they feel too personal to share online. What I will say is I’ve been moved by unexpected kindnesses. The two weeks in which my father shuttled back and forth between nursing home and hospital were some of the loneliest of my life, compounded by travel restrictions and time zone differences. The people who checked in to ask how things were going and offer support sustained me more than they could ever imagine, and will always have a special place in my heart.
Take care, friends—not just of yourself and your loved ones, but of acquaintances. Even strangers. Don’t underestimate how far two minutes of your time can go. A quick “I’m here” might just be the thing that someone else remembers forever.
RIP John Andrew Melanson
Dec. 19th 1940 – May 12th 2020