Daughter prepares for Father’s Day without beloved dad who died from COVID-19

Like the hundreds of thousands of people across the country who lost loved ones to COVID-19, Abby Reinhard is preparing to spend a holiday without a loved one by her side.

This Sunday, Reinhard, of Rochester, New York, will spend her second Father’s Day without her dad, Donald Adair, who died of COVID-19 last year.

The 42-year-old mother of three said she hopes to mark the day by talking on the phone with her three siblings, who live across the country and abroad.

“We were on that call with him for so long when he was dying and the next time the four of us connected on a call again was his birthday that summer,” Reinhard told “Good Morning America.” “I think this Father’s Day is a good time to do that again.”

“We’ll just tell him that we love him and sing songs that remind us of him,” she said.

PHOTO: Donald Adair, of Rochester, N.Y., poses with his four children in an undated family photo.

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Reinhard and her siblings spent the last nearly two days of their 76-year-old dad’s life on the phone with him, as he lay in the hospital struggling to breathe.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the siblings could not be by his bedside, so they relied on nurses who propped a phone by Adair’s ear as his children listened for his every breath and said their goodbyes.

Adair was preparing to be discharged from a Rochester hospital after a fall when he contracted COVID-19. At the time of his death, in early April 2020, just over 23,000 people in the United States had died as a result of COVID-19.

This past week, the U.S. passed the grim milestone of more than 600,000 deaths due to COVID-19.

“Many of us have had our own individual traumas during this pandemic, but we’ve all experienced a mass trauma,” said Reinhard. “And our individual trauma is connected to this mass trauma, and that’s unusual in a way.”

PHOTO: Abby Reinhard poses with her father Donald Adair on her graduation day.

For Reinhard, the past year has been a blur of trying to grieve and also move forward without being able to hug her siblings or formally say goodbye to their dad, an attorney and grandfather of five.

She is just now planning a memorial service for her dad, which will take place on his birthday, July 24.

“It’s hard to get my family together because people live in different places as far away as Denmark, but they’re going to be here on his birthday and I decided it wasn’t too late to do a memorial,” said Reinhard. “Even though so much time has passed, I think it’s necessary.”

PHOTO: Donald Adair, center, poses with three of his four children.

As her dad was dying last year, Reinhard wrote about the experience as it unfolded so she would have a memory of her dad’s last hours. She later shared her thoughts in a moving Facebook post that gave a glimpse into what it was like for the thousands of families separated from their loved ones.

Reinhard said she is just now in a place emotionally where she can go back and read the hundreds of comments from people with experiences similar to hers.

“I wasn’t in a place to read them at the time and now I find I want to go back to those messages to connect with this shared experience of loss,” she said. “I was grateful to hear from people whom it helped because I did feel very vulnerable putting it out there.”

In a turn that Reinhard describes as unexpected, the diary of her dad’s final hours became a way for her to form a new relationship with him, one that Reinhard said is almost stronger than when he was alive.

She described the diary as starting a “dialogue” with her dad, one that has continued ever since.

PHOTO: Donald Adair poses with his daughter Abby Adair Reinhard on her wedding day.

“The last Father’s Day that my dad was alive I got a card for him and I didn’t get around to sending it. That’s one of my regrets,” she said. “Now I’m grateful that I can write to my dad and he gets the message immediately and I can feel his response and his love right away.”

Reinhard described several instances of what she said is a common occurrence where she’ll say out loud to her dad that she needs to see him or hear from him, and then a bird will fly directly by her or a meaningful song will play on the radio.

“I barely remember last Father’s Day because I was in the depths of grieving and the fog of the pain that was connected to the pandemic,” she said. “Today I feel OK. In many ways, I feel close to my father in a new way.”

PHOTO: Donald Adair poses with his granddaughter, the daughter of Abby Reinhard.

Ahead of this Father’s Day, Reinhard took to Facebook again to share with others how she has begun to heal after losing her dad and in such an isolated way.

“My dad is present in my life in a new way. Whenever I need him, he’s only a thought away, and I can feel his love and support. I can sense his answers to my questions,” she wrote. “I actually feel closer to him now than I did before he died.”

Though Reinhard has found a connection with her dad, grieving through a global pandemic has not been easy, she admitted.

PHOTO: Donald Adair holds one of his five grandchildren in this undated family photo.

And Reinhard appears to be not alone in that feeling. On Facebook, where she wrote her journey, a number of support groups have been started in the past year for the loved ones of victims of COVID-19.

“When people weren’t wearing a mask, I couldn’t help feeling that they weren’t honoring my dad and the millions of other people who have died,” said Reinhard. “Now I am fully vaccinated but I’m still wearing a mask indoors with fully vaccinated people because I’m still unwinding from this tight ball I’ve been in for over a year of fear and trauma.”

“The pandemic forced us all to change our patterns and now as we’re moving out of the pandemic we have to find new patterns and shed some of the pandemic habits, and that’s a process,” she said.

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