Grieving is a hard process for everyone to go through when it’s over the phone

I’m having such vivid dreams lately probably because it’s my only opportunity to go anywhere.

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At least thirteen patients at a veterans care facility in Massachusetts died within the span of a few days this month. Six of the deaths at the Soldier’s Home in Holyoke have been confirmed as related to the coronavirus thus far with further testing expected to reveal more. A dozen or so other veterans and staffers there have also tested positive with many others waiting results.

The first death reportedly came at the beginning of March but it seems that some combination of incompetence or indifference and callousness led management at the facility to downplay the spread and hide it from local officials. It wasn’t until an anonymous tip came in to the city’s mayor this past weekend that news of the conditions became widely known.

“No one at City Hall had been told of the deaths before last weekend,” mayor Alex Morse told the Boston Globe. “No one at the highest levels of state government had, either, officials said. And neither had family members of the veterans who survive.”

That last part is certainly true. Last night I spoke with the grandson of an elderly Alzheimer’s patient living there. They didn’t learn that he had tested positive or that there was even any reason to test him until just before the story broke in the media over the weekend. Even then they weren’t told about the increasing number of deaths he said.

“There was never any discussion about deteriorating circumstances around there or more cases,” he told me. “They said they were aware there was one case, and that was all that had been disclosed to my mother.”

Employees have reportedly been complaining for weeks that the facility did not seem to be taking the virus seriously. One said they were disciplined for wearing a mask while treating a patient who had been confirmed positive according to the Globe.

“Your actions are disruptive, extremely inappropriate and have caused unnecessary resources to be deployed that may be needed in the future,” the disciplinary letter read. “Your behavior unnecessarily disrupted and alarmed staff.”

I spoke with the grandson about how his family was kept in the dark as the contagion spread. Since he happens to work in liquor licensing in Massachusetts we also talked about how the industry is being impacted and some other matters all of which you can read below.

First a couple other things though. Here’s a story I saw shared from a doctor in Brooklyn.

Here’s a tweet I saw from an investigative reporter at the New York Times. I’m not sure who this guy is investigating but they’re definitely going to get away with it.

I wrote in here last week about how people in recovery and addicts of other kinds definitely not in recovery have been dealing with the isolation. Since then I’ve had the thought — and to be clear this is clearly real far down on the list of problems in the world — that this is a real tricky time for problem drinkers who want to have a few drinks each night but don't want to buy in bulk and have it all available to them at once but also don't want to needlessly keep going to the store. So in short if my newsletters or tweets are extra shitty lately it’s because uh I'm being a responsible citizen. Thank you for my service.

I wrote this in here a while ago and maybe I’m a dumb fuck but I still believe it.

…There will come a day when not having been on the side of Medicare For All will be looked at in the same way as being on the wrong side of some of the greatest injustices in American political history. Everyone who is arguing against it today will someday pretend they were not. Better get your shit in order now.

Vice asked me and a bunch of other people how we’ve been doing. Turns out not great!

Luke O'Neil gets a lot of emails too. The writer of "Welcome to Hell World," a popular newsletter basically about how bad America is and how hard life can be, often interviews people who have difficult jobs or gone through personal crises; last year he wrote about how Fox News addiction has destroyed people. His recent, coronavirus-flavored stories have been about how addicts are grappling with isolation and stress, the perils of being a mail carrier and how he is going through his own kind of unraveling. A lot of what's happening now—the sudden seeming collapse of so many systems at once—confirms for him what he's been saying about how fragile our society is, and how damaged.

"There's this real weird back and forth going on in my mind right now like, this is what I've been trying to say all along, people! This is how broken our country is!" he told me. "To be proven right in such a huge and instant swoop about how cruel our system is, there's no solace in that."

Read the rest of that piece here.

I asked people the other day what the last normal mundane thing they remember doing was before they fully realized what was up. Here’s some of what they said.

  • Taking the last two jars of whole peeled tomatoes at the grocery store, feeling guilty and putting one back for someone else.
  • Took the kids ice skating the first weekend of March. Felt uneasy seeing people cough. That was kinda the moment.
  • I worked a shift behind the bar and remember the false confidence of everyone drinking and dismissing this like just another headline that wouldn’t affect them.
  • I was one of those people on the other side of the bar on a Friday, before Ohio shut the bars down on a Sunday afternoon. It wasn't a disrespect for what was going on, it's just what I always did. Then the gravity of everything fell on me that weekend.
  • I ate lunch in a room with 150 people on a film set. Passed gear around like we normally would with multiple people touching it. Put my slate marker in my mouth while filling out a camera report. It all seems unfathomable now.
  • I tried checking out the new Encore casino for my birthday weekend and it sucked! I vividly remember thinking I'd try going somewhere else a weekend or two later, but little did I know...
  • I interviewed at a bar on March 13th and elbow bumped the manager to accept the job. I worked the next day and by Wednesday it was closed indefinitely.
  • My birthday party at an escape room. We escaped the room now there is no escape.
  • There's an all you can eat cash hot-pot place by my house.  Normally you have to show up when it opens or it's a 2+ hour wait. Right before this all got serious we went there twice where we were one of three total couples period the entire meal. An ominous omen.
  • Went for Szechuan food in a deserted restaurant in Sunset Park with my best friends. Tried to get my boyfriend to come with us, arguing it was going to be the last normal day...and it was.
  • I was on vacation at the beginning of the month and it's really like I flew back home into the alternate universe.
  • I met friends for dinner and then watched Uncut Gems at their house and ever since then it's frankly like the Uncut Gems stress never left me.
  • Going to the playground, pushing my kid in one of those grimy plastic seats that's nasty under the best of circumstances. No more of that!
  • Saw toilet paper on store shelves and thought, "Eh, I'll grab some tomorrow." Swiftly regretted that.
  • I got a beer at the place across the street, still sat out on the patio. I did get a little worried when the waitress coughed but then she told me she just went to "smoke" in her car.
  • Had dinner in a restaurant, and exclaimed about a rainstorm that came through while we were eating.
  • I went to improv but there weren’t enough people to make a full audience so I left. I really wish I’d stayed.
  • Went into the city for a bubble tea festival, came back with food poisoning. The doctor asked me about if I'd left the country or met anyone who had and I didn't understand why. That was way back before it was making headlines.
  • Going to Cheesecake Factory. I wish I had a better memory.
  • We were in Jamaica for a family vacation and came home on Saturday the week before they really started locking things down. In the airport in Jamaica people were wiping stuff down but still sitting on top of each other in the restaurants etc. The plane was full and nothing was really strange yet. When we landed on Saturday I'd say 20 - 30% of the Logan employees had masks on and we thought it was a little strange. I was supposed to fly out the following Monday for Vegas for work and they cancelled the trip and even though at the time I thought that Covid19 was serious, I thought it was crazy that they were cancelling the trip. In hindsight it appears to have been the right choice.
  • Visited my mom. She’s alone and lonely. I can’t risk seeing her now and feel so bad.
  • Giving my friend a hug.

I was reminded of this story There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury today which you will either really enjoy or really not want to read at this time.

In the living room the voice-clock sang, Tick-tock, seven o'clock, time to get up, time to get up, seven o 'clock! as if it were afraid that nobody would. The morning house lay empty. The clock ticked on, repeating and repeating its sounds into the emptiness. Seven-nine, breakfast time, seven-nine!

In the kitchen the breakfast stove gave a hissing sigh and ejected from its warm interior eight pieces of perfectly browned toast, eight eggs sunny side up, sixteen slices of bacon, two coffees, and two cool glasses of milk.

"Today is August 4, 2026," said a second voice from the kitchen ceiling, "in the city of Allendale, California." It repeated the date three times for memory's sake. "Today is Mr. Featherstone's birthday. Today is the anniversary of Tilita's marriage. Insurance is payable, as are the water, gas, and light bills."

Somewhere in the walls, relays clicked, memory tapes glided under electric eyes.

Eight-one, tick-tock, eight-one o'clock, off to school, off to work, run, run, eight-one! But no doors slammed, no carpets took the soft tread of rubber heels. It was raining outside. The weather box on the front door sang quietly: "Rain, rain, go away; umbrellas, raincoats for today. .." And the rain tapped on the empty house, echoing.

Outside, the garage chimed and lifted its door to reveal the waiting car. After a long wait the door swung down again.

At eight-thirty the eggs were shrivelled and the toast was like stone. An aluminium wedge scraped them into the sink, where hot water whirled them down a metal throat which digested and flushed them away to the distant sea. The dirty dishes were dropped into a hot washer and emerged twinkling dry

Nine-fifteen, sang the clock, time to clean.

Out of warrens in the wall, tiny robot mice darted. The rooms were a crawl with the small cleaning animals, allrubber and metal. They thudded against chairs, whirling their moustached runners, kneading the rug nap, sucking gently at hidden dust. Then, like mysterious invaders, they popped into their burrows. Their pink electric eyes faded. The house was clean.

Ten o'clock. The sun came out from behind the rain. The house stood alone in a city of rubble and ashes. This was the one house left standing. At night the ruined city gave off a radioactive glow which could be seen for miles

Read the rest here if you like.

Ok here’s my interview with the man whose grandfather tested positive in the veterans home.

I’ve been having a hard time keeping track of the timeline on this story, basically because I don’t have any sense of the days of the week anymore, so can you explain the rough timeline?

To go further back, my grandfather has Alzheimer’s. He went into the VA home out in Holyoke, probably in fall of last year. He was in the Merchant Marines. The day they dropped him off he fell out of his wheelchair and broke his fucking hip. Right around March 14, they reached out to my grandmother and my mother to say they have a positive case there. I think they were starting to take precautions around then, like they said no one can have any visitors. And basically that was all we knew. They would check in with them regularly, someone at the home, or a social worker. Then this past Wednesday, the 25th last week, they called my mother and told her he’s doing ok but we have tested him. Then Friday they called to say he had tested positive.

What did they say on Friday?

They were like we just want to let you know your father is doing ok, he doesn’t seem to be worsening, but he did test positive for Covid, which was just a huge shock because they had no idea that he had shown any symptoms or anything along those lines. There was never any discussion about deteriorating circumstances around there or more cases. It was that they were aware there was one case, and that was all that had been disclosed to my mother. So when they got the call that, not only was he showing symptoms, but he had tested positive. That was the first they heard of that.

Was your mother like, what the fuck, why haven’t you been letting us know?

She first assumed my grandmother hadn’t picked up the phone. My grandmother is obviously up in age, so sometimes the phone is tricky for her. So she assumed at that point that they had tried to reach out to her and had been unsuccessful at reaching her. So on the Friday my mother asked does this mean there’s more than one case, and they said, well yeah, I really can’t disclose it, but there’s more than one case. Then within a couple hours of that the whole story came out that there were multiple deaths already at that point and multiple cases.

So people had died by the time they were just telling you grandad had tested positive?

Exactly. I think that there were people who had probably died prior to him even being tested. Certainly people had passed by the time they told us he was positive on Friday. The story came out within an hour and a half after they called my mother. I think at that point they had already five confirmed Covid deaths.

Do you think they were rushing to cover their ass?

Perhaps. It was strange. Since then more stories have come out from employees there who said they were telling us not to disclose things. Who knows. We were entirely in the dark. If that story hadn’t broken we wouldn’t have expected anything at all. It’s an unfortunate circumstance. He’s in the Alzheimer’s unit. These guys are obviously not taking care of themselves in a way others would, so it’s not unfathomable this stuff happens. But it was odd to get a call after he’d already been tested. I think my mother felt it was out of the ordinary, but chalked it up to a normal lack of communication. It seems like there was more to it than that.

What’s the family’s state of mind right now?

We’re just worried about him right now. It’s difficult because you can’t see him, can’t communicate with him. My mother can’t see my grandmother, who’s on her own, and has been for the last two weeks. She’s elderly as well. It’s just super isolating. We’re trying to have a phone conversation with my grandmother, how do we want to handle next steps if things go worse. It makes the grieving process, maybe it’s not grieving yet, but it’s a hard process for everyone to go through when it’s over the phone. Under ordinary circumstances someone could be there.

My wife just overheard this and left the room, I think, because this has been the thing she’s been worrying about the most, what happens if someone we love gets it and we can’t go see them? Our parents aren’t super old, but imagining one of them getting it and not being able to say goodbye, that’s the main thing driving her to grief.

I think that’s exactly right. He’s in his eighties, his health has been failing for years, so it’s not him being sick itself. I think she’s right, it just worsens everything. What a way for my mother or my grandmother to have to deal with that without sort of the proper ways of saying goodbye or getting that closure. It’s brutal. It’s a really brutal part of this whole thing. It’s not unique to them, it’s everybody. It’s awful.

It’s terrible man. I had a real grim thought recently, like a morbid joke, where I thought damn I’m glad all my grandparents are dead and don’t have to go through this. I also had a fight with my wife, like, if you get it and they put you in the thing I am 100% going to get arrested fighting with the hospital police because I’m going to come in if they won’t let me. I’m gonna have to punch out a hospital security guard and go to jail and then I’m gonna get it there, and we’re both going to die alone.  We’re both laughing. It’s funny but it’s not though.

Absolutely, it’s the worst part of the whole thing.

Not to be insensitive. Your grandad is in his eighties, he’s going to die, it sucks, but we all deal with that, and it’s a natural part of life. But to not even be able hold his hand and say I love you grandad...sorry I’m about to make myself cry.

Right. Yup. That’s exactly right. For my grandmother it’s sad, the outcome of their lives together, you go through the Alzheimers, and you get to this point, if this is the way he goes out? Awful.

Was he an alright guy?

He was a good guy. An average guy, you know, of that generation. Construction. Definitely drank too much. Massachusetts guy. Watertown.

That’s where I live. Armenian?

That’s where my mother grew up. No, Irish. They were a working class family, just growing up in the seventies and eighties, during that time. I’m sure he could’ve been a better father, but he had a loving relationship with my grandmother. Nothing is unique about their circumstance I don’t think. Unfortunately it seems like it’s what a lot of people are going to be going through now. It’s less about them personally and more all the people who are going to go through this.

What do you do?

I’m an attorney. I represent a lot of liquor stores and restaurants for liquor licensing and commercial real estate.

Are you dealing with any of your restaurants now?

Yeah they’re all getting crushed.

They’ve deemed recreational weed non-essential, but liquor stores are open. Do you have any insight on what that’s about?

I think, at least from the government’s standpoint, their position on that is, because we’re one of the only states that has recreational right now in New England, they’re worried about out of state traffic coming in. Otherwise it would seem to be an absurd distinction, the fact that liquor stores are still open. I mean, I’m not complaining. I don’t know how you could argue they’re essential, but they said they’re following the fed guidelines, and they’ve always found them to be essential. When I saw Charlie Baker speak today he said, basically, that’s a hard no, that’s not going to happen on recreational coming back. Maybe there’s some validation to the limiting traffic thing.

Well when I’ve been to the dispensary in Brookline, the lines are so fucking long… Maybe because weed stores are concentrated in a few places instead of the local package stores being everywhere.

Even liquor stores are all down. They’re all hurting. You can’t get employees to go in. People aren’t going to work for $13 an hour. They’re just going to say I’ll keep my health. They aren’t going to risk their lives for that. Over time people are becoming more cognizant of the seriousness, and it’s just going to have a drop off effect. So they’ll all scrambling, trying to get delivery licenses. It used to take a couple weeks to get a delivery license, so now the licensing board is trying to turn them around under twenty four hours.

While I have you here, what do you think is going to happen going forward with liquor licenses in Massachusetts. Is this going to shake everything up?

It will be interesting to see. They’ve got a strong lobby, the package industry.

What about the expansion of licenses for restaurants?

Thus far they’ve had a hard time getting any of those things to pass. The majority of the guys we represent are adamantly against it because of the value of the liquor licenses. For a restaurant license, the only place a restaurant license has any value is the city of Boston. If you go to any other town, restaurant licenses are for the most part widely available with a few exceptions. Whereas package store licenses you can’t get anywhere. They’re all capped out. $250-300,000 is the value of having a liquor license in a small town, so they don’t want that expanded. But it’s changing. A lot of grocery stores are getting licenses now. It probably won’t change too much, the corner package store will still be fine, but it’s changing. Restaurants are hurting man, it sucks.

Yeah I want nothing more than to go to the basic ass average pub down the road we go to. The food is... fine, but I just want to go get some steak tips and…

It’s so depressing. And it’s just the beginning of it too.

It’s like day twenty for us and it hasn’t all even started.

I feel bad for these guys. I just closed a deal on a new restaurant in Newton the last week of February. These poor guys calling me every day. What do we do? I’m like, fuck. I don’t have an answer. The government programs they came out with last week are pretty decent, they can float some loans that are forgivable. But places can’t do it on delivery alone. Places are staying open that don’t normally do delivery. I can’t imagine that continuing for too long.

And on top of everything else Tom Brady is gone! We’ve got that to deal with.

We sure do. These are tough days. Chris Sale getting Tommy John surgery. What’s even good?

Nothing much going on is good. Well I hope your grandad pulls through.

Thank you. I think the overall point is this isn’t going to be a unique thing. So many people. It’s just starting, and that’s the crazy part. Everyone’s going to have these stories. It sucks.

You’ve got kids?

Three little ones. My law firm is still open. It’s insane. We were deemed essential employees because we close loans with banks. I went in on Monday, associates are doing all these closings, running around, meeting with people. It’s insane. Fucking greed. But thank you man. I hate your Liz Warren takes but other than that I dig your stuff.

lol I was just saying earlier I don’t mind people who wanted Liz then said alright fine I’ll go for Bernie now. But the people who despise Bernie out of hand I just can’t deal with that.

No buddy, I get that. That’s not us at all. I appreciate you giving a voice to people impacted by all these awful things. I’m lucky to not have many circumstances in my life that remind me of your writing like this.

People who read me, they probably don’t want to have ever have reason to message me.

That’s exactly right.