Losing a loved one to COVID-19 is devastating in much the same way losing someone to any illness is. There are stages of grief—periods of confusion, anger, and immense sadness. But for many families experiencing a coronavirus-related loss, another feeling is tangled up with all the others: a penetrating and persistent sense of regret.
For Sabila Khan, whose father contracted COVID-19 at a short-term rehabilitation center, that regret takes the form of impossible what-ifs and if-onlys. What if they’d brought him home during the first week of March? she often wonders. What if she could have been there in the emergency room to advocate for him, as he waited three days for an open bed? Her father died on April 14, alone at a hospital just a few blocks from her home in Jersey City, New Jersey. If only she could have held his hand. “When your parents grow old, you are under no illusion that they will live forever, but never in my wildest dreams did I think he was going to die the way he did,” Khan told me. “This is going to haunt me for the rest of my life.”
There are thousands of Americans like Khan, for whom the past few months have been nothing less than a nightmare. To many of them, Donald Trump’s downplaying of his own COVID-19 diagnosis, and his rhetoric equating sickness with weakness, has been a profound insult. Before Trump’s hospitalization, most Americans already disapproved of his handling of the pandemic. With each dismissive comment, he minimizes the suffering of an ever-growing share of Americans.