With mounting casualties from coronavirus in the United States alone, the pandemic is leaving thousands of families grief-stricken and heartbroken. The crisis is particularly cruel since most victims pass away in isolation. Though most families don’t have a chance to say goodbye, one widow decided to share the emotional farewell note that her husband left on his phone.
After a 28-day battle against COVID-19, 32-year old Jonathan Coelho passed away on April 22. His wife, Katie, related that he actually seemed to be getting better, and doctors had talked about taking him off the ventilator.
However, early Wednesday morning, Katie received an urgent phone from the hospital in Danbury, Connecticut. By the time she got there, it was too late. Katie said, “They brought me into his room and he was laying there and he just looked scared. He didn’t look peaceful and I just kept saying ‘I’m sorry.'” Jonathan died from cardiac arrest due to complications from coronavirus.
Back home, her first thought was to look at Jonathan’s phone. “For some reason in my delirium, I wanted to get all of the pictures of my husband and my kids off of his phone.” She turned on the phone, and, along with insurance information, Katie found the loving message that Jonathan expected her to find in his absence.
Jonathan wrote, “I am so lucky it makes me so proud to be your husband and the father to Braedyn and Penny. Katie you are the most beautiful caring nurturing person I’ve ever met. You are truly one of a kind…make sure you live life with happiness and that same passion that made me fall in love with you. Seeing you be the best mom to the kids is the greatest thing I’ve ever experienced.”
Through the trauma, Katie recalled, “If I was sick and feeling crummy, I don’t know if I would have had the strength to give my family a goodbye letter. And to make sure they knew how much I loved them and how happy I was with them.”
The pandemic tested an already difficult family situation because of the challenges on the road to having children. After two miscarriages and IVF, the Coelhos have Braedyn, 2, and Penelope, 10 months. Braedyn has his own medical challenges, including cerebral palsy. Predicted to survive only from six weeks to a year, Katie decided to look after the children full time, while Jonathan looked for work that was closer to home.
The family took all the necessary precautions to prevent the possibility of infection to protect Braedyn. Katie canceled all of her son’s therapy appointments and began self-quarantining at home.
As a probation officer and essential worker, Jonathan, however, continued to work. Katie remembered having worried phone conversations with her husband, discussing about the potential for what was to come.
On March 23, after realizing that he had come in contact with someone who was COVID-19 positive, Jonathan took the test himself. He tested positive on March 25, and was admitted to the hospital after developing symptoms – headaches, coughing, stomach problems, and issues with his sense of taste and smell.
Jonathan was generally healthy, and had no underlying medical conditions.
Katie said, “When you have heard of people passing, you read the stories and you almost look for a justification like oh, they were 65 years old or they smoke or have pre-existing conditions, but my husband doesn’t fall under any of these categories.” On March 29, the Coelhos had what turned out to be a last coherent, logical conversation on the phone. Later, they exchanged a final set of text messages.
The time stamp on Jonathan’s final note to his wife was on that day, before he was intubated.
Katie received updates on Jonathan’s medical condition through phone calls from nurses and FaceTime. “I’ve found myself replaying memories in my head to picture what Jonathan and my conversations would be for the day. It’s my only comfort, because I know him so well, I can hear him so clearly in my mind.”
When Jonathan passed away, Katie wrote, “The pain we are feeling is indescribable. Our everything was stolen from us. My heart is not even broken it’s shattered. My kids and I will live the rest of our lives without Jonathan. And I don’t know how we’re going to do it.”
Jonathan’s final note continues to sustain Katie as she processes her grief. She also decided to share her husband’s story, to show the reality of how going to work cost her husband his life. On CNN, she told Anderson Cooper, “My husband should not have died Wednesday morning. But he did. I keep thinking in my head there will be a time when I’ve been without my husband longer than I was with him, and it hurts a lot. It comes in waves. It’s very surreal.” She added, “He was always my go-to person. He had an amazing way of always making you feel safe.”
Even Cooper was moved to tears by Jonathan’s last most thoughtful gesture. His voice broke when he read some lines in the message left on Jonathan’s phone: “I love you guys with all my heart and you’ve given me the best life I could have ever asked for.”
Cooper, who lost his father at age 11, sympathized with Katie, “I’ve reached that point a couple of times in my life, and it’s a very strange feeling and I’m sorry that you’re going to experience that.”
At this point, Katie is most concerned for her children, and is most upset that they will never remember their father’s love. She cried, “They don’t know that they lost the greatest human being and they’ll only know their dad through pictures and memories and videos. The worst part is they won’t feel the love I felt for the last 10 years.”
Cooper reassured her, “The only thing I’m going to tell you is they will know him through you and the love you have for him. They will feel like they know him because I know you will tell stories about him as they grow up and for the rest of their lives.”
Katie’s story gives a face to the thousands of families who have lost loved ones to coronavirus. She honored Jonathan’s memory in a heartfelt obituary, mirroring the sorrow of others across the globe.
Watch the Anderson Cooper interview and if you wish to help the grieving family please visit their GoFundMe account.