On a mission to heal after exposing her dad to deadly virus

SHARON, Mass. — For a yr, Michelle Pepe awoke daily, recited the Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, and kissed a photograph of her father. And coped with her guilt.

“’Dad,” she says, “I’m so sorry that this happened.”

“This” was COVID-19. In March 2020, simply because the pandemic bloomed within the United States, Pepe traveled from Boston to Florida for her mom’s eightieth birthday. She believes she gave the coronavirus to her father; Bernie Rubin died weeks later.

“At the beginning, people would say, ‘Well, how did he get it?’ From me. That’s how he got it — he got it from me,” Pepe says, sobbing.

“Nobody’s ever said, ‘This is your fault and you gave it to him,’ but I know it’s true. I know I couldn’t save him. It’s just something I’m going to have to go to the grave with.”

Hers is a frequent sorrow of the occasions. Around the world, numerous persons are struggling to shake off the burden of feeling liable for the demise of a cherished one due to COVID-19. They remorse a journey or really feel anguish over on a regular basis choices that will have unfold the illness — commuting to work, hugging mother and father, even choosing up meals.

Michelle Pepe places a bouquet of yellow roses on her father's grave as family and friends watch in Sharon, Mass., on Tuesday, April 13, 2021.
Michelle Pepe locations a bouquet of yellow roses on her father’s grave as household and buddies watch in Sharon, Mass., on April 13, 2021.

On the eve of the anniversary of her father’s demise, Pepe’s fingers tremble as she holds a framed portrait of Bernie and Phyllis Rubin, smiling and surrounded by their 10 grandchildren. Taken on March 8, 2020, it’s one of many final pictures of the couple with their household.

After the celebration, Pepe stayed in Florida to care for them through the pandemic. She believes she caught the virus whereas purchasing for groceries for her mother and father. Then her father and mom sickened. Worried about his worsening situation, she known as 911. He died alone at Delray Medical Center; members of the family have been unable to go to him.

“I shouldn’t have given up and called the ambulance,” she says. “That’s what haunts me, and thinking about him, alone in that room … I know he was terrified.”

There was simply a transient, socially distanced graveside burial. Pepe watched on Zoom whereas she continued to look after her mom, who has a number of sclerosis and was recovering from COVID-19.

Pepe has been battling despair ever since.

“I was in a real funk for a real long time,” she says. “And then one of my daughters said to me, ‘Mommy, we thought that we lost our grandfather, but … we didn’t realize we also lost our mom.’ I figured I have to snap out of it.”

Michelle Pepe laughs as she and her husband reminisce about her father's love for baseball, work and family at their home in Sharon, Mass., on Monday, April 12, 2021.
Michelle Pepe laughs as she and her husband reminisce about her father’s love for baseball, work and household at their house in Sharon, Mass., on April 12, 2021.

Pepe joined online support groups the place she met different grieving survivors; went to a psychic medium, trying to find indicators; and sought steerage from a rabbi who taught her how to recite the Kaddish.

On April 13, she awakens to say the prayer and light-weight a yahrzeit candle marking the one-year anniversary of her father’s demise. “We just have to get through this day,” she repeats on the drive to the cemetery. She wears her father’s gold chain and highschool commencement ring.

At his grave, she locations yellow flowers on a tombstone that reads: “Loving husband, father, pup” — his nickname — “and great grandfather.” In the Jewish custom, members of the family depart behind small stones.

They keep in mind a man who adored his grandchildren, calling them day by day to atone for the newest Red Sox information or to invite them to video games at Fenway Park. In current years, “he couldn’t walk very fast — unless it was for a baseball game. Then he’d turn into Carl Lewis!” says Bob Pepe, Michelle’s husband, who labored together with his father-in-law and remained his shut pal for 30 years.

The furnishings retailer that Rubin based together with his spouse in 1983 grew into the Bernie & Phyl’s Furniture chain, with 9 places throughout New England.

Michelle Pepe wears a mask honoring her father, Bernie Rubin, with concern to stop the spread of the coronavirus during a ceremony, Monday, March 1, 2021, on the town common in Natick, Mass.
Michelle Pepe wears a masks honoring her father, Bernie Rubin, with concern to cease the unfold of the coronavirus throughout a ceremony on March 1, 2021, in town frequent in Natick, Mass.

The couple have been featured in TV commercials best-known for his or her catchy jingle. Strangers would typically acknowledge them at eating places and recite the catchphrase: “Oh, are you Bernie from Bernie and Phyl’s, quality, comfort and price?”

And Bernie Rubin would chime in, as within the advertisements: “That’s nice!”

After the cemetery, Pepe visits the corporate’s headquarters in Norton. She admires the partitions adorned with a whole lot of autographed photographs of baseball gamers her dad started accumulating as a child. She takes a deep breath and walks into his workplace, adorned with one other, equally prized assortment: photographs of his household on cruise holidays, at bar mitzvahs, school graduations and weddings.

She picks up her dad’s work telephone, leaning in shut to take a whiff as she typically does together with his pockets, his shirts and his cologne, hoping to sense his presence. But she smells nothing — COVID-19 robbed her of her senses of odor and style.

At lunch, the household walks to Rubin’s favourite restaurant and orders the “Bernie Reuben,” a sandwich named after him. Every day, Rubin would stroll into Kelly’s Place to order a cheese omelet and undergo the identical comedic routine with a waitress.

Lisa Post Mazerolle, Jill Federman and Michelle Pepe, from left, hold photographs of their fathers, David Post, Harvey Federman and Bernie Rubin, during a ceremony on the town common, Monday, March 1, 2021, in Natick, Mass.
Lisa Post Mazerolle, Jill Federman and Michelle Pepe, from left, maintain images of their fathers, David Post, Harvey Federman and Bernie Rubin, throughout a ceremony in town frequent on March 1, 2021, in Natick, Mass.

“‘Carol, I have to stand here for 20 minutes? There’s 10 empty tables. How do you run a business like this?’” Bob Pepe says, imitating Bernie’s voice. “And she’d go: ‘Will you shut up? You know where you’re sitting, go sit down!’”

Sitting subsequent to her husband, Michelle Pepe bursts into laughter. Later, she wipes away tears.

“It was torture,” she says. “But a year later, here I am, and I can laugh at these stories.”

The subsequent day, she awakens to kiss her father’s photograph. She seems on the calendar and heaves a sigh of reduction. The ritual yr of mourning is over.

“My father would be so tortured if he thought about how tortured I was, and I want him to be happy and at peace,” she says. “And he’s only going to be that way if I’m that way here.”

Michelle Pepe leans on her husband, Bob, as they watch her father's recorded memoirs on a computer at their home in Sharon, Mass., on Monday, April 12, 2021.
Michelle Pepe leans on her husband, Bob, as they watch her father’s recorded memoirs on a laptop at their house in Sharon, Mass., on April 12, 2021.

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