Rita Ghai stood with her daughter Samta in the doorway of their Pittsfield home. Anup Singh Ghai, husband to Rita and father to Samta, was 71 when he died on March 21 from COVID-19. Erin Clark/Globe Staff
Samta Ghai drove her mother to her appointment to get her first dose of the COVID vaccine in Great Barrington on a Wednesday evening in early spring. Her mother was quiet in the backseat.
When the whole family was vaccinated and it was safe, the Ghais were planning a big summer trip. They didn’t know where yet, but they had already made a pact: no COVID talk on vacation.
But Samta couldn’t think about the future even as she drove towards it. Her mind spun around and around through March of 2020.
“Mom!” she cried out. “If just one year ago, we could have gotten this vaccine —”
If, if, if. If her father hadn’t come to visit her in New York City. If his family had somehow recognized the symptoms earlier. If they had pushed the doctors harder. Her father was so healthy! He walked for miles every morning and evening.
A year ago nearly to the day, Anup Singh Ghai, 71, breathed in and inhaled the virus. A few days later, he had a cough.
Samta remembered sprinting through Berkshire Medical Center trying to reach him. Watching the doctors perform CPR. Watching them stop. Bending over her father and holding him. The nurse who told her quietly — sensibly — “Miss, you need to stay back. He has an infection.” Tearing her own mask off in defiance and nearly shouting: “If I had an infection, he wouldn’t leave me!” Kissing his face.
In her panic, she had hit record on her phone camera and forgotten. She found the video afterward, a still shot of the ceiling and the sound of her father’s last moments. She will never watch it, but she will never delete it, either.
From the backseat, Samta’s mother was gentle. There was nothing more they could have done.
Here is the grace that Samta has found: When her father died at the dawn of the pandemic, the whole world went into mourning with her. Everyone’s parties were canceled. No one went back to work. The mechanic who does her family’s oil changes read it in the paper and sent flowers.
As the vaccine rolls out and the crocuses bloom and people take their first tentative steps back into public life, the reminders of everyone lost to COVID will be all around us, if you know where to look.
Two names still on the recorded message of a home answering machine in Dennis. A widow who answers the phone, polite but weary, her voice a frozen ocean, and says, “It’s been a difficult year since he died. There it is.”
A worn dictionary, the pages as thin as tissue paper, with the smallest type you’ve ever seen and gold gilding on the letters, sitting in a son’s bookcase in Ware. He remembers his father thumbing through it in the home office he filled with such an incredible weight of books that the pilings holding it up sank straight into the earth.
A fuchsia throw, so utterly unmatchable with any other piece of decor that it earned the nickname “The Poison,” in a daughter’s home in West Boylston. Her mother knew every room needs something that doesn’t go — it’s the tension that creates the design.
Samta Ghai, pausing when she catches the clock at 11:11 p.m., the moment her father died, to tell him goodnight.