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‘Last week, COVID-19 took away my freedom. This week, it took my dad's life.’

Last week, COVID-19 was the impetus for a new routine. It was a reason I cancelled plans and found myself wiping my arse with napkins.

It was permission to work from home. It was a cause of global uncertainty and inconvenience. It was stats. It was small talk. It was a trending hashtag. It was memes. It was an excuse to buy new books and call old friends.

Last week, as it did for so many others, COVID-19 took away my day-to-day freedoms. This week, on Monday at 3:20 am AEST, it took away my dad, who passed away alone in a Chicago hospital within less than 48 hours of being admitted.

I’m writing this because I can’t write a eulogy.

Other than a couple of Facebook posts from compassionate family friends, my dad’s death – and life – will largely be forgotten – rolled in with the thousands of other coronavirus victims who now exist as little more than line graphs splashed across screens around the world.

But here’s what I won’t forget:

Dying in a global pandemic is an inhumane way to pass away.

My dad was far from perfect, but no one deserves the indignity of dying alone.

On my first panicked call with him in the hospital, I asked outrightly if he was scared, he chuckled and sighed and said: “yeah, a little.” He told me at least four times that he was alone and said “people in spacesuits” had to bring him the phone.

He couldn’t have a priest give a blessing. But he answered all my family’s questions and thanked us each for calling. It wasn’t much, but apparently, that was enough.

Deathbeds bring out the best in people.

My last two conversations with him were the best I’d had in years. At Christmas, I had to remind him who I was. Having spent the past two decades in the vicious grip of alcoholism, he’d said and done and not done a lot of things that created distance between himself and others who knew him.

But this week, when diagnosed with an even more gripping illness, Dad told the nurse to give his ventilator to “someone who deserves it more”.

That’s the Jon Danno I want the world to remember.

Making death arrangements over Zoom is awkward.

So is getting virtual hugs. Teaching your teary mum how to unmute herself is endearing. 2020 is weird.

Isolation is a shared experience.

And time zones are irrelevant. Ironically, I’ve never felt more loved or less alone than I have this week.

Whether you’ve lost your father or just your everyday freedom, COVID-19 is impacting all of us in ways we can’t comprehend. I mourn for those out of work. The people who’ve lost jobs and small businesses and work VISAs.

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I mourn for those having to work – and rework – their routines, letting their bosses into their bedrooms and lounge rooms, wishing there were mute buttons for dogs and children. Parents, I applaud you.

Kindness makes me cry more than sadness.

I can’t explain it. It just does. I tear up at nice text messages and full-on lost my shit when my friend Olivia showed up at my door with flowers and six different kinds of hummus (my own addiction).

She even gave me a hug, which in an era where those are off-limits, has never felt more comforting.

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Other friends have sent me baked goods and brought me care packages from Kmart (another vice of mine) and my work partners from Facebook – whom I’ve never even met in person – sent me a portal to be able to call my family properly and further confuse my poor mother.

Humans helping humans. F*ck yeah.

The universe is real.

I can feel my friends cringing at my granola-ness as I write this, but this week I’ve been sent more bizarre little signs and happenstances and peace offerings than I was ever prepared for.

I won’t bore you with the whole list, but I will say the fact that Bob Dylan released his first song in eight years on the day before my dad got admitted to the ICU is nothing short of a miracle.

My dad was obsessed with Bob Dylan – a passion he passed onto his two daughters along with history, sports, travel, and the Chicago Bulls and Cubs. He’d told me in his own words the story of where he was during JFK’s own untimely death 1000 times before, and that happened to be the inspiration behind Dylan’s latest song.

Bob, if you’re reading this, thanks for making his last week special.

Gratitude should always be in mind, but this week it’s a lifeline.

Last week, I was grateful to have a paycheck, but this week I’m grateful to have the people.

The outpouring of support and concern I’ve received from my co-workers, all while juggling with their own work-from-home woes, has warmed me in ways they’ll never know.

This experience transcends professionalism. Nobody gives a shit about deadlines when your dad is dead. I’m very grateful for their patience.

On that note, taking time off is important.

At first, I ambitiously told my boss I’d be back online in two days. Again, I ignorantly thought I was strong.

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For every unread email waiting in my work inbox, I have about 10 unread texts/WhatsApps/DMs/Zooms/missed calls I feel more inclined to respond to right now. Work will still be there in a week. But you never know who won’t be.

It’s ok to be not ok.

For a little bit, at least. Frankly, I thought I was stronger than this, but it turns out you’re never really prepared to lose a parent.

Even one whose funeral your family has had planned since you were in high school. After years of watching my dad’s gradual decline, I’d wondered how I’d react when the day finally came, and an ugly naked explosion of emotions while trapped in a travel ban wasn’t in my plans. But plans are a waste of time, I suppose.

I’m conflicted about legitimately everything.

How Australia is handling coronavirus. How hard it is to be here, but how I’d also rather not be at home. Whether or not that’s selfish. Whether I should have done more to self-isolate. How sad I’m allowed to be. How long I’m allowed to be sad. How many days I should take off work. How many times a day it’s socially acceptable to go outside. And to the fridge.

Anyone else feeling like this lately?

Clearly, I’m still processing. And if you’re still reading, thank you for listening. Normally, I’d book a ticket home, and then a trip somewhere exotic to distract myself from my feelings. Or, I’d go run it out on a trail or talk it out on a friend’s couch. But thanks to COVID-19, my coping mechanisms have changed, as have everyone else’s.

So far, the focus has largely been on how coronavirus is affecting our lives, but maybe it’s time we acknowledge the deaths. Not to depress ourselves, but rather to check ourselves every time we go to complain.

Sure, my wedding won’t have a daddy-daughter dance, my mum will walk me down the aisle, I’ll never buy another Father’s Day tie, but I don’t feel robbed of these experiences. They were never promised to me.

I’m not really in a position to preach or educate or even advocate, but what I can say is this – COVID-19 is a hashtag. It is a headline. It is an inconvenience. It is a tough experience. But it is also an opportunity for growth and connection and acceptance of uninvited, uncomfortable change. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few weeks, it’s that humans are incredibly adaptable.

And if there’s anything I’ve learned from my dad over the years – aside from how to properly dress a hotdog (no tomato sauce, if you’re wondering) – it’s the power of a “one day at a time” mindset, which right now I’m finding has never been more important. I’ve spent 17 years trying to understand his alcoholism and have even been to AA. While I’m not an alcoholic, I now find I’m putting its principles into practice for myself.

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So here’s to you, Dad. Thanks for giving me life. And perspective. And my first basketball jersey. And travel journal (which I still have under my bed).

And here’s to you, Mum, thanks for managing the hard stuff.

And here’s to you, World, thanks for sticking with me. While the times they are a changin’ (to borrow Bob’s words), I’m now more confident than ever that nothing is as bad as it seems. And together (yet a safe distance apart), we’re stronger than ever.

In lieu of payment for this piece, Michele asked that we donate to the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation to support healthcare workers on the front lines every day. If you’d like to join us in supporting them, please click here.

The current situation around COVID-19 might be making you feel scared or uncertain. It’s okay to feel this way, but it’s also important to learn how to manage feelings of anxiety during this time. To download the free PDF: Anxiety & Coronavirus – How to Manage Feelings of Anxiety click here.

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