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What we lost, what we found

One year of COVID-19

By Evan Allen and Beth Teitell | March 12, 2021

One year ago, our world shut down. We went home. Schools and stores closed. We lost jobs and loved ones, went mad with loneliness, took risks to help others, waited on God, forestalled futures. We learned to fear. What we didn't always realize: We were together in isolation, and our many private moments would tell a story of discovery and resilience, and of an indelible mark made upon us.

A man wore a plastic bubble as he walked down William J. Day Boulevard in Boston. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

There was no room at the front of the bus, so the woman slipped in through the back door. “Excuse me,” she murmured, squeezing on board as the bus lurched and the people swayed. When it crossed the Tobin Bridge, she looked past her reflection in the window to watch the city before dawn, shining towers over dark water.

She breathed in, she breathed out. She thought nothing of it.

Later, across the state, an old woman looked in a beauty parlor mirror and smiled. A pregnant woman sat in a crowded restaurant. A pack of teenagers huddled close and howled with laughter.

None of them yet knew — most of us didn’t, in those early days of March one year ago — that they stood at the edge of the life we knew and were about to cross to another one, dark and unfamiliar and cut off. It was still possible then to catch a stranger’s eye and share a moment. We had not yet retreated into our own private worlds to wait it out and watch the waves of suffering and fear crash against our windows.

At a downtown lunch, two men shook hands.

On Cape Cod, a husband came home.

On the grand stage of the Cutler Majestic Theatre, an opera singer strode out into the bright lights to deliver his first line: “In quella selva e morte.” In this forest lurks death.

A dark room lined with acoustic foam. Peter Slavin sat facing a camera. He was alone. Slavin would not even see his interviewer, just hear through an earpiece the opening fanfare of “Meet the Press” and then a voice.

Slavin had been thinking about what he should say on this newsmaking national TV program. He was president of Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the most prestigious medical institutions in the world. His words could have impact. It was March 15; there was no time to lose. He needed to choose a message that would resonate.

For months, he had watched the virus’s advance across three continents, felt dismayed by the laggard US response, and worried about the public’s slow awakening to danger. He had found himself flipping through a book about World War II, reading what that threat had demanded of the world and its leaders.

On a page of talking points he now carried with him, he had written the word “war.”

He heard the voice in the earpiece. A light on the camera glowed.

“We’ve begun to see cases in this area, but we need to expect them to rise dramatically in the coming weeks,” he said. “I think we need to think about this in an almost warlike stance.”

The governor that same day shuttered the schools and shortly ordered all nonessential businesses to close.

Crowds packed grocery stores, clearing shelves. Clorox and paper towels and water. Pasta, beans, cough medicine.

A death tally began.

A mother and father in Foxborough, worried about losing their jobs, sat with their bills spread out across the kitchen table and tried to keep their voices low.

A janitor swept a silent Boston Symphony Hall, aching for the sound of a flute.

Metrics of a new order

Number of feet between people: 6

Hours government scientists said virus could live in vapor: 3

Days of quarantine: 14

Packages of toilet paper per customer: 2

Massachusetts deaths as of March 19: 1

Deaths as of April 19: 1,706

Number of people allowed to attend a funeral: 10

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh glanced at his Fitbit after dinner and realized he needed to get his steps in. It was one of those early spring nights when the temperature plummets after sunset. He walked briskly from his house in Dorchester, talking to Governor Charlie Baker on his cellphone, as he often did on these walks.

Just that week, Walsh had declared a 9 p.m. curfew, announced that the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center would become a field hospital, and asked everyone in the city to wear a mask. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade had long been canceled, and the Boston Marathon would soon follow. The US surgeon general had told the American people to brace for the “hardest and saddest” week of their lives, and, in Massachusetts, the virus was exploding. Nursing homes were besieged. The faces of the dead flashed endlessly through the news.

Midway through his walk, Walsh looked at the time. The curfew was minutes away. It would not be a good look for him to be meandering around in obvious violation of his own rule, he told Baker. The governor agreed with a laugh and hung up.

It wasn’t until he turned a corner on a neighborhood block of restaurants and shops that Walsh realized he hadn’t seen a single car pass. The strip was deserted. No one shuffled out of the packie with a case of beer. The windows of the pizza place were dark. It made him think of zombie movies.

He made it to his door by 9, but he shouldn’t have worried. There was no one to see him.

Melinda Cox (left) embraced her sister and aunt during a wake for her mother, Janice Cox Pratillo. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

So what if Melinda Cox’s mother loved peonies? If she talked to the birds while she hiked Mount Wachusett, if she collected handprinted wallpaper, if her grandchildren called her “Chi,” the Chinese word for energy? So what if she kept a perennial garden so arrestingly beautiful that people driving by her house stopped their cars to stare, and if she popped her popcorn on the stove, and if she had been married for 46 years, and if she ushered errant bees out of her house by telling them gently: “I invite you to leave.”

She still died the same way so many did: alone, in an unfamiliar nursing home, with her daughter standing outside the window screaming in the rain.

In those early days, there was a fear that there wouldn’t be enough hospital beds, and so Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center moved Janice Ellen Cox Pratillo, age 73, out of the Worcester home she knew and into a facility in Westborough to make space for recovering COVID patients, without ever checking to see if Janice was positive for the virus herself. She was, but who knows if that mattered. Janice had early-onset dementia, and her family believes it was the move that killed her.

Melinda thinks about that moment every single day, and she will for the rest of her life. It was horror, and it was common, because the virus came first for the nursing homes.

What matters, then? Melinda is trying to explain. It’s the scale of it. Imagine the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the letters of each name pressed close together and cascading away from you across all that infinite, shining granite. Imagine your mother. Imagine opening the window three inches, imagine the rain pounding your back, imagine shouting, “Is she dead?” Imagine her eyes closing, imagine that she never even knew you were there.

By the end of April, the funeral parlors were running out of room.

Inside the Ruggiero Family Memorial Home in East Boston, the tribute lounge — usually reserved for the bereaved to gather and drink coffee in wingback chairs — filled up with caskets they could not bury fast enough. Now the Virgin Mary statue in the corner spread her benevolent arms out over the dead in their Sunday shoes. Staff hung a thin plastic sheet across the doorway with binder clips. A family walking past might have thought it was just construction.

Down below, the embalmer worked. Mark Tauro was afraid of the virus, afraid he would bring it home to his wife and his two sweet boys, but he never considered stopping. His duty to the dead was sacred to him. Years ago, he had worked on his own father. He took enormous pride in his ability to restore the flush of life and give a grieving family the gift of a peaceful goodbye. Every night when he got home, he stripped off his clothes in his mud room before walking inside.

Such fragile things held the virus at bay: a plastic sheet, a cotton shirt.

Funeral director Joe Ruggiero moved a casket into a makeshift storage room as the Ruggiero Family Memorial Home in East Boston coped with the coronavirus. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Uber driver Mutwaly Hamid felt feverish. He tried to ignore it. Behind him, his passenger coughed. No mask. None of his passengers wore masks. Mutwaly coughed. His passenger looked up. Their eyes met in the rearview mirror.

Rebecca Ramer held her newborn babies and closed her eyes. Soon, the nurses would come and take them away again, these two tiny parts of her, tangled in tubes and wires — but not yet. At least I have this, she thought. At least you’re alive. At least I get to hold you.

Levi and Lucien, born three days before, 11 weeks early, in a frenzy of running doctors. Rebecca’s pregnancy had been healthy, and when her water broke while she lay on her bed at home watching dance videos on her phone, she didn’t understand what was happening. The ambulance and its panicked siren. Nurses shouting questions. No time for an epidural.

When she first saw her boys in their little plastic incubators, she didn’t know if they would live. They looked like grasshoppers. Every time Lucien’s heart rate plummeted and his breathing stopped, machines exploded with alarms. The virus had closed the hospital to visitors and left her and her husband alone in private hope and grief.

But now, her boys were stable enough for her to hold them together for the very first time, tucked under her shirt against her skin.

Do not think about yesterday, she told herself. Do not think about tomorrow. For a few moments, in this hospital room at the end of April, the pandemic and everything else retreated, beaten back by the volley of three hearts beating. Rebecca started to sing.

“Sorry, is all that you can say,” the song began. It was a love song. And she was sorry. Sorry that her body could not hold them. Sorry that she had brought them into this strange new world, where breath and touch were deadly.

“Forgive me, is all that you can say,” it went. Forgive me, life will not be tender.

“I love you, is all that you can say,” she sang. The nurses had offered her a mirror so she could look at her babies, but she had said no. She only wanted to feel them, back with her where they belonged.

“I love you, I love you,” she sang. This melody, they knew.

Rebecca Ramer held her 10-month-old twin sons, Lucien Stephen Ramer (left) and Levi Stephen Ramer. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Massachusetts deaths as of May 1: 3,716

Massachusetts jobs lost by May 9: 1.1 million

Number of students out of school: 983,000

Pounds of food distributed by Greater Boston Food Bank in May: 9.7 million

Fraction of Americans showing signs of depression or anxiety: one third

Marin was 5 and Enna was 3 when their beloved stuffed unicorn, Uni, got sick. They knew, because her light-up horn had turned red. There was no time to waste. They pulled on their little white coats.

Doctor Marin had seen this before. Outside the doors of their Reading home, the pandemic had settled into every crack in the sidewalk. “This patient has the virus; she wasn’t wearing her mask,” the little girl told Nurse Enna somberly. “We need to give her some medicine.”

Marin turned sternly to Uni’s parents.

“You are supposed to stay inside,” she told them. “If you go outside of your yard, you need to keep space from people and make sure you’re wearing a mask.”

Uni’s horn glowed green. She would be OK.

“We need to do this for years and years,” Marin told Uni’s parents. “Until the virus goes away.”

The empty playground at the Franklin Elementary School, where children could no longer play. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

She woke up early and put on a mask. “God take care of me,” she said.

Every day as the weather warmed up, Aracely Gamboa looked out her window at the line of people that stretched from the Salvation Army food pantry in Chelsea, past her worn three-decker, up over the hill, and out of sight. She was afraid to join them.

So many people here were sick or had lost jobs. Chelsea was the epicenter of the state’s outbreak. Aracely was convinced the virus would kill her and orphan her children. She locked herself in her apartment with her 12-year-old son. She had been laid off from her job as a barista. Her 28-year-old daughter dropped groceries at her door, but the money was dwindling and the supermarkets were terrifying.

Aracely knew hunger. She grew up in a little Mexican town near Jalisco. Her parents died when she was 10, and she raised three sisters and her brother alone, dropping out of school to beg and wash dishes, and then, later, to iron blouses in a hot factory for 5 cents a garment. Without parents to look after her, she had been forced all her life to rely only on herself. She did not want that for her children. Hunger, she could bear, at least for a while.

For weeks she watched that line. She would roll over in the morning and lift her bedroom curtain and there it was, forming before sunrise. She would let the curtain fall.

When she was a girl, and she couldn’t find enough food for her siblings’ dinner, she would put them to bed early and hope they slept through the pain. Sometimes, a shopkeeper would let her clean the floors in exchange for apples.

How could this be, in America? Aracely ran out of rice and beans.

In May, she decided to save herself and her son. She woke up early and put on a mask. “God take care of me, wherever I’m going,” she said. She was crying, but she was the first person in line in the dark.

A young boy waited while his family gathered bags of food at the Brazilian Workers Center food pantry in Allston. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Her students’ self portraits catching snowflakes were still hanging on the bulletin board when art teacher Carolyn Mills-Mambuca finally made it back into her empty Chelsea classroom in June. It was her favorite project of the year. The kids had looked up through the skylights and watched the snow fall, sticking out their tongues. At the end of other school years, it took a month to clean out the room, but today she had been given just three hours. She threw all those lovely watercolors into a giant trash barrel and cried.

Liz Wright looked out her kitchen window in Boston. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Liz Wright set her book down on the porch step next to her and studied the tops of the trees and the blue July sky. “Well, I’m here,” she said to God. Still waiting.

Her whole life, she’d been searching — for an answer, for a connection, for a key that would unlock the great mystery. Finally, after 29 years, she believed she had found it, and that at long last her soul had a home. A simple ceremony was all that remained for her to feel whole. And then the virus came.

The dead of summer, and she was drifting again. She was raised Catholic, but her mom got cancer and she never made her first Communion. She wanted to be a priest, but she was a woman. She wanted to be loved unconditionally, but she was queer. She left the church. She contemplated becoming a nun. She studied pagan rituals.

Then she moved to Boston and found Judaism. Here was a faith that smiled on her questions. Here was her rabbi — a woman, queer like her.

There is a Jewish story that says when God revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai, the souls of all the Jewish people who ever were or who ever would be were present, too.

For her soul to take its place among them, Liz had to immerse herself in ceremonial waters and say the Hebrew prayers. “Baruch ata adonai….”

Her conversion was scheduled for summer. But the ritual bath closed. Her synagogue went digital. Her parents got stuck in Texas.

“You are infinitely patient,” she said to God, from her back porch. A warm breeze blew.

No one was paying her to look after the desk plants, but she couldn’t bear to let them wither away.

Whoever left the orchids probably thought they died. But the light was just perfect — indirect and bright. It glanced through the empty Boylston Street office, across orphaned coffee cups and calendars still turned to March. Every week, horticulturist Cara Raskin came to water the company plants, dusting the leaves and trimming the Dracaenas and singing show tunes so none of them would feel lonely. No one was paying her to look after the desk plants, but she couldn’t bear to let them wither away, and so the delicate tropical flowers had survived.

How she wished someone was here with her now to see it: six white orchids blooming all at once on a Back Bay windowsill.

Third-graders waited outside in a socially distanced line at the Lincoln-Hancock Community School in Quincy on the first day of school. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

In September, gym teacher Billy Brunstrom paced every inch of the Manomet Elementary School gymnasium in Plymouth, taping giant “X”s onto the floor and memorizing the new map of the world: Six feet. Six feet. Six feet.

The kids all called him Mr. B, and he couldn’t wait to see them. He would start the year with soccer — that was easy, no hands, all kicking. For tag, he planned to introduce pool noodles, so they could be “it” from a distance. They would love that. Hockey had sticks; cornhole had bean bags. They would do air hugs and air high fives.

Mr. B was 26, not that much older than the kids were, really, and he felt like he could identify with them. This was hard. He understood. He knew what he was going to say to them on the first day: “Things are different. We all know what’s going on in the world right now. It’s still going to be gym class.”

He had a white board where, every week, he put up a new inspirational quote. He wanted his kids to feel good about the future.

Twenty years from now, when Mr. B looks back on the pandemic, this is what he will remember: a little boy who came up to him shyly in the hallway with a quote he had made up himself, hoping it would make the white board. Of course, Mr. B had given it a place of honor. “The further down you fall, the higher up you climb,” he wrote, his letters enormous.

Tenor Omar Najmi performed for a small crowd on the grounds of the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

In the cold November air, the opera singer’s voice carried straight out across the small crowd.

“Outside this house, the world has changed,” Omar Najmi sang, to his first live audience in eight months. “Life is swifter than before.”

A small outdoor stage in rural Massachusetts, a trailer surrounded by hills. Far from the Cutler Majestic and other opera houses where he usually performed, those stages dark, now, because of the virus. This wasn’t grand, but it was intimate, and he could lose himself in the character.

“Do you know Paris and Rome and Budapest and Vienna?” he sang. “The gilded grand hotels for dancing, the glass and marble stations for goodbyes?”

The audience listened and tried to imagine it.

The Cambridge biotech company hadn’t yet won federal approval for a single drug in its entire history. Scientists at Moderna had been trying for a decade to develop custom mRNA to instruct human cells to battle a disease or virus.

Now, Noubar Afeyan, the company’s cofounder and chairman, was waiting on a phone call that could change everything, and catapult him and his team into history books.

Did the company’s COVID vaccine work?

It was Nov. 15. The death toll in Massachusetts had just passed 10,000; the death toll in the US was up over 240,000. The holidays were approaching, and despite a steady stream of pleas from experts, people were going to travel. The fall surge was already here, and it was going to get worse.

Afeyan was convinced his company’s vaccine would have some effect. Earlier that month, biotech giant Pfizer announced trial results of a vaccine using an approach similar to Moderna’s — it was as much as 90 percent effective. Dr. Anthony Fauci himself had said he’d accept a vaccine with just a 60 percent effective rate. But it was Afeyan’s nature to consider all the ways he might fail. He ran again through dark possibilities.

The virus was not just a science problem to Afeyan. It had killed his father-in-law in April. He didn’t talk much about it.

Just before noon, his phone rang. It was Moderna’s chief executive, still on the other line with the independent board monitoring the company’s trial, and he didn’t even say hello.

“Ninety-four point five,” he blurted.

Afeyan was stunned. “Wow,” was his only thought. “Wow.”

The CEO had to go. Afeyan was still for a second, his mind racing ahead to the logistics of government approvals and vaccine production.

He walked off. He had to find his wife.

Courtney Senechal, a registered nurse, prepared a shot of the Moderna vaccine at East Boston Neighborhood Health Center. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Mariella Murillo stood with balloons she received for her 18th birthday this month. Mariella said of turning 18, “It happened and it was nice but we couldn't do much. It wasn't what my mother wanted to do, she wanted to have a big birthday party.” Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

In the little apartment she shared with her brother, aunt, and four cousins, Mariella Murillo opened her laptop and began to type.

It was an e-mail to her teachers at the Boston Arts Academy. She felt embarrassed. What would they think of her, that she couldn’t handle this on her own?

“It is very difficult to write something like this,” she wrote.

It was her senior year. She was supposed to be rehearsing her last high school musical and gathering with film classmates to watch old movies. Instead, the 17-year-old was holed up at home in Roxbury, taking online classes alongside the other kids in the crowded, chaotic space. Now, things had suddenly gotten much, much worse. She had always thought of herself as lucky, but she was afraid her luck had run out.

“My own mental health is affected by the stress of it all,” she wrote.

Mariella was tough. She didn’t live with her mom or dad. She had been homeless twice. She got good grades anyway. She didn’t complain — she never complained. Everything was always “fine.” But she couldn’t bear to hide her worry this time.

She had learned the day after Thanksgiving that she had COVID. Her aunt was positive, too, and in the hospital. Mariella was afraid she might die. Her aunt was Mariella’s legal guardian and the head of their household. Now, Mariella was in charge. She was overwhelmed and imagining the fever and aching lungs that might soon seize her.

“There are going to be days where I am late, unable to participate, unable to complete assignments on time, etc.,” she wrote to her teachers. “I will continue to try to do the best I can, and while we can’t be perfect in this confusing remote learning world anyway, I am asking for this to stay in the back of your mind.”

“I am not asking for special treatment, just consideration.”

She signed the e-mail and braced herself. She was not a girl who asked for anything. It felt safer to say she was fine. But school was home, the place where she had figured out who she might become. She hit send.

And something she didn’t expect happened. One teacher sent $100; another asked if he could deliver groceries. “We got you,” wrote one teacher she had never met in person. Mariella felt something inside herself shift.

But the reply that made her cry came from a gruff teacher she had admired for years, whom she had always hoped to impress. It was just three words.

“You are wonderful,” it said.

She was overwhelmed and imagining the fever and aching lungs that might soon seize her.

A mask hung on a branch of a Christmas tree. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Merian Lopez packed up the pavo guisado, the turkey stew no one had touched. She shouldn’t have cooked so much. The entire Christmas Eve spread was cold on the table, and her aunt and sister weren’t there to help her clean up her Villa Victoria townhouse in the South End.

At least, if they were back home in the Dominican Republic, it would be warm outside, and they could breathe the fresh air. Instead, her 8-year-old daughter was sprawled across the couch watching a flickering TV set, her three teenage sons were already upstairs, and her eldest was away working. Merian tossed the paper plates and forks and aluminum servers and started washing the dishes.

Usually, music from the neighborhood would still be drifting in the window. Her friends and relatives would be dueling at karaoke. Bachata, merengue, and salsa music would have played loudly all the way through Three Kings Day in January. This year, no one danced. Since the pandemic shut everything down, Merian had worried she would lose her job as a preschool teacher. Her boss was paying her salary with a loan, but she didn’t know how long that would last.

She vacuumed the rugs and swept the kitchen. She went to bed when her daughter did. She snuck back downstairs a few hours later to toss the cookies and milk and replace the hopeful letter her little girl had written to Santa requesting an iPhone, with an apology she had typed out a few days before. “Sadly, Santa Claus doesn’t give little kids iPhones,” it read.

But that morning, her daughter woke her up screaming at 7:30. “It’s Christmas! It’s Christmas!” Her boys shook off their early-morning teenage grumpiness so their little sister could feel the magic. Merian watched her daughter hug each of her presents in delight.

Merian felt her loneliness lift. Her daughter had breezed right past that apology letter. The little girl sat beaming amid the confetti of torn wrapping paper, carefully lining up her gifts: Paint. Canvasses. Brushes. Crayons.

Ralph Trotto sat in his bedroom at his home in Holden. The room is filled with photographs and memories of his mother, Franny, including the cardinal figurines he started collecting since she died. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Ralph Trotto stood at the edge of a lake. It was Christmas night. There was no moon.

He had asked his mother for a sign. He was always looking for her, in alighting cardinals, in suddenly-appearing glasses of water. He missed her so much he had gone to a medium, who told him his mother was smiling and asking: How could he miss her, when she was right here beside him?

Franny Trotto, beautiful at 92. Alzheimer’s had stolen her speech, but when Ralph visited her at the nursing home, she loved to walk him around and introduce him to the residents. She would make eye contact with all her friends and grab her son’s arm, pushing him forward like a little boy and grinning. She died asking for him.

There was a dusting of snow across the woods. The water was calm, the forest silent. He knew the second he saw it. A light, in the center of the lake. He pointed his camera and zoomed in. And, he swore to God, it was shaped like a heart.

Massachusetts deaths as of Feb. 1: 14,317

Number of times Americans asked Google when the pandemic will end: 2.1 million

In the dream, Spencer Alton was in a tattoo parlor in Somerville trying to get home to Brighton. He stepped out onto the street and realized he didn’t have a mask. There were people everywhere. Now he was running, crashing through forests that sprung up out of nowhere, hurtling through backyards. Where were the empty sidewalks? Where were the open roads? He woke up with his hands on his face.

Dot Joyce doesn’t usually get upset about things she can’t change, but it had been three months with no real improvement.

She had gotten COVID just after Thanksgiving. She didn’t even get that sick. But she couldn’t smell the candle she lit in her Quincy home. She couldn’t smell the lemon she squeezed in her hot water. She couldn’t smell the Tupperware lid she burned on the stovetop, and when her dog, Lulu, started barking to alert her to the acrid smoke, she couldn’t smell Lulu’s breath.

She mourned them, all her lost smells: Lulu, fire, perfume, fruit. She took a boat out across Boston Harbor at the beginning of March, and found the wind bereft of salt.

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.