We tried to take a selfie recently, my parents and I, with a copy of the book, Who We Lost, held in my hand. The book will be published on May 9, and an essay by me appears in it, which marks the first time something I wrote will be published in a book. We were all happy about it. My parents’ pride was palpable.
Each photo we tried to take with my phone presented a new variation on the same problem: my dad was somehow out of the frame each time. We all laughed at this, and then I woke up. Of course my dad cannot appear in a photo with a copy of a book in which his death from COVID on May 10, 2020, is the starting point to my essay in the book. (Spoiler alert, I guess.)
My psychological makeup is deeply literal, even in my dreamlife. “Logic” is one of the words in the phrase, “emotional logic,” after all, and even if I wish I could take a selfie with both of my parents again, I can’t. At the top is a photo of my parents, Bob and Rena, and me from 2017.
The week before last, Martha Greenwald, the founder of the WhoWeLost.org website and editor of the book of the same name, asked me if I had received my copy of the book yet. She spent a part of the week checking in with the book’s memoirists. There are forty essays in Who We Lost, which is a deeply moving collection of memories and reflections by those of us who lost loved ones to COVID over these three years, as well as a guide to the role writing can play in healing after loss and in ongoing grief. A poet, Martha Greenwald lost her father in a tragic accident years ago, and she has visited many of the roads, lanes, unpaved paths, and wilderness areas that comprise the collective map of individual grief. The book has started to receive positive attention, with a blurb on the back cover from former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky.
I had not yet received my copy, I told her. That night, sleep was fitful, and I dreamed the dream about the selfie attempt with my parents. As I had not yet held a copy in my hands, I think my mind’s literal nature also had me “misplace” over and over again the copy I was to hold in the dream photo with my parents. The book was not in the mail that day, either, which seemed to be as fitting as my sleep had been fitful. I slept more deeply the next night.April 29, it was in my mail. I pulled it out of the mailer, and a friend saw me teary-eyed as I held for the first and perhaps only time a book that has something I wrote in it. Among friends I cracked a joke, “This is the first book with my name in it that doesn’t have my phone number beside it,” and I discovered that my friends in their early twenties do not understand that joke. There is an age spectrum that this joke reveals, from those my age and up who laugh a knowing laugh, to those in their late twenties and early thirties who nod in recognition that this presents the recognizable structure of a joke minus the connection of a shared life experience, to the blank-faced stare one young friend gave me, in which I realized that I needed to explain the joke to her.
I am one of those egomaniacs who did indeed like to see his name in the phone book, as in the film The Jerk, and then I started to get published in newspapers and magazines. The experience was new each time I saw my byline in the newspaper. Self-pride is unhealthy, so this is likely why I needed later publications to be anonymous instruction manuals and then nothing at all. A decade ago this website you hold in your hands right here opened a new chapter.
My dad would be proud of this essay, as I know my mom is. There is nothing we can do to change the facts, though: my dad’s frightening and sad death is one of the almost seven million global deaths officially due to COVID (more than one million in the U.S.). It saddened me to learn that Johns Hopkins University shut down its live global coronavirus map and database on March 10, 2023. The numbers I cited two sentences ago are now larger. When I attended a Marked By COVID community meeting online recently, there were newly bereaved individuals who lost loved ones this year, 2023.
There will be two events in which I will participate to mark the publication of Who We Lost: A Portable COVID Memorial: at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, May 10, on Facebook Live, and in-person on Saturday, May 20, at Q.E.D. Astoria. If you can get to Astoria, Queens, that day, please reserve your place at this link (tickets are free, but space is limited). If you’re a WordPress friend, it would be amazing and moving to meet you.
Thank you to Martha Greenwald and Belt Publishing.
Mark Aldrich is a journalist, award-winning humor columnist, and writer/performer with the Magnificent Glass Pelican radio comedy improv group, now in its thirty-second season:
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