PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The doctors told the family of Dan Remillard, age 43, that his time was at hand. He’d held on for six weeks, often on a ventilator, but the virus had taken a toll.
As Dan, a working man from Woonsocket, lay unconscious at Rhode Island Hospital, those who knew and loved him gathered by Zoom to say goodbye. In a testament to how many souls Dan had touched, almost 100 were on the video call.
There was one notable absence: Dan’s father, Ron Remillard.
Ron too, was gravely ill from COVID-19 — in his case, having served in Vietnam, at the Providence VA Medical Center.
As folks on the Zoom said final words to Dan, there came a heartbreaking turn. A VA doctor phoned Ron’s wife to tell her difficult news.
Her husband, at age 72, had just lost his battle.
The Zoom by then was almost over.
Not long after, Dan Remillard’s battle ended too, father and son dying within an hour of each other, both victims of the coronavirus pandemic of 2020.
It was Dan, the son, who got the virus first.
It began with his wife, Liz Remillard, 41, a longtime certified nursing assistant, now with the Friendly Home in Woonsocket, a skilled-care facility with 126 beds.
She had been out with a foot injury as the pandemic began. Her first week back was in early May, working the third shift with residents who had COVID.
On Monday, May 4, she took a routine virus test for staffers and two days later, although she had no signs, learned she was positive.
Liz quarantined herself in a room in their home, the first floor of a two-family. Liz soon developed moderate symptoms including fatigue, a runny nose and no smell or taste.
Out of caution, Dan, a heavy-equipment operator with the Woonsocket Water Department, also locked down at home.
By that Friday, May 9, Dan began having symptoms, too – chills with a light fever. He got tested, and on Sunday May 10, learned he had COVID-19.
He quarantined in a room as well.
The Remillards’ 8-year-old daughter, Avabella, was also positive, but with no symptoms. Their 17-year-old son, Gavin, tested negative, and everyone worked to protect him, masking up when they left their rooms.
At first, it seemed like it would just be a version of the flu.
Then Dan’s symptoms began to get worse.
On May 14, four days after testing positive, Dan Remillard’s fever suddenly went to 104. Liz gave him Tylenol and put him in a cool bath. That seemed to work – it went down to 99.
A day later, Dan’s left hand went partly numb. The doctor, concerned about blood clots, asked that he go to the hospital.
But Dan, never prone toward complaint, said he’d be okay.
Then his temperature spiked again and stayed high. Dan began to cough, too. As it got worse, Liz grew alarmed.
It seemed to be affecting his breathing. It was hard for Dan to get words out.
At 8 p.m., Liz insisted they go to the ER. It took Dan an hour to get ready. He’d put on a shoe, then lie down, exhausted. That’s how weak he was.
Finally, they drove to Rhode Island Hospital’s emergency room, stopping at a tent set up outside.
Staffers right away saw Dan needed to be admitted. Liz would have to say goodbye to him there.
She moved her mask and told him, “I love you.”
He said the same.
The virus wasn’t as bad for Liz. Soon, the body aches and fatigue faded. But her tests didn’t come back negative for six weeks. That’s how long, she learned, COVID can last.
Then she learned another relative had the virus – her 79-year-old uncle Virgilio Jordao. He’d lived with a degenerative nerve disease that years before had put him in the nursing home where Liz worked. He was one of the residents she cared for.
With his pre-existing challenges, COVID proved devastating. Virgilio died in mid-May at the Friendly Home.
In normal times, Danny would have helped Liz get through that loss. It was a reminder of COVID’s cruelty that she couldn’t even visit her husband for solace.
Two days after Dan went into the hospital with COVID, the night nurse arranged a Zoom call with Liz and the kids. Dan looked good to her. He had on a clear oxygen mask and she could see him mouth the words “I love you.”
They had another call the next day. This time, Dan looked tired. It was hard for him to talk.
Still, his playful spirit was intact. At one point, it came up that Liz’s background was Portuguese, prompting a nurse to say, “So you’re a good cook.”
Dan shook his head “no” to tease Liz, then gave a thumb’s-up.
As they signed off, Liz was hopeful.
But on the third day, Dan could barely keep his eyes open. His breathing had gotten worse.
On the fourth, they had to put Dan Remillard on a ventilator.
Then his kidneys failed and he was soon on continuous dialysis, too.
That began a month-long vigil as Dan held on while unconscious, the family praying for him from afar.
On June 20, the Remillard family got news about their patriarch, Ron.
Two years before, at age 71, after a journey of memory issues that progressed to dementia, they had made the hard decision to move Ron into a nursing home. He was now in the Morgan Health Center in Johnston, which gave the kind of round-the-clock care that had been difficult for the Remillards to do.
But they visited often, Dianne bringing Ron home every weekend, the family gathering around him.
Morgan Health routinely tested residents after the pandemic began, and Ron was negative for months. But on that Saturday, June 20, Dianne was told he had come up positive.
Yet there was good news, too. Ron was asymptomatic.
Dianne Remillard was seeing how capricious COVID-19 could be. Her son Dan, strong and 43, was in grave condition while her husband, 72, and with many challenges, had no symptoms.
That would soon change.
Dan, despite the ventilator and dialysis, held on. By mid-June, he seemed to be turning a corner.
Around June 18, the doctors said there was hope of weaning him off, perhaps moving him to a step-down floor to begin rehabbing back to full health.
But there was caution, too. COVID had taken a toll on his body and lungs, and such patients could suddenly decline.
On Sunday, June 21, Father’s Day, they were transporting Dan to a CT scan. It was an arduous process, having to move all his machines with him.
That’s when something happened. Dan suddenly crashed. His breathing blocked up and his heart stopped.
A team began CPR and wouldn’t give up. Finally, at 12 minutes, they got Dan’s heart restarted.
But it left profound damage.
A nurse called Liz to say things were so uncertain she should come to the hospital immediately. She did, bringing the kids.
It was the first time she’d been next to Dan in weeks. He’d lost a lot of weight and looked terribly ill.
After a half hour, the kids stepped out and it was just Liz and Dan in the room. She held his hand, saying, “I’m here with you.”
He was full of tubes and IVs, the machines beeping and hissing.
By then, she had gotten to know the Rhode Island Hospital nurses well enough to see they had come to love Dan, too. They talked about his infectious smile, and devoted family. They had hoped to see his triumphant recovery. Now, they told Liz that if this was the end, Dan would never be forgotten.
Liz, heartbroken, prayed for Dan to rally, but if this was his time, she trusted the Lord. Liz knew God has a plan for everything.
Just as a Rhode Island Hospital nurse had called Liz about Dan on June 21, now a different nurse the very next day called Dianne Remillard from the VA about her own husband, Ron.
He was no longer asymptomatic. Ron had developed breathing problems. His oxygen was declining, so they had taken him to the Providence Veterans’ Administration Medical Center.
As with Dan, things looked grave.
But the Remillards’ grit was still in both father and son. They both held through the night. And the next days.
Dianne would later say it was as if Ron somehow sensed his son’s situation. She’s convinced her husband would not leave until Danny was ready to come with him.
Days later, around June 26, Dan’s doctor called Liz.
It was now clear, the doctor said, that Dan’s heart had stopped for so long that his brain had little activity, and would not recover.
His lungs were in bad shape, too. In essence, Dan was being kept alive by machines. The doctor and Liz talked about how there comes a time when a life is unnaturally prolonged.
Over the next days, Liz prayed about what to do. At times, she almost wished God was ready to take Dan so she would not have to make the decision.
On Sunday morning, June 28, Liz went to a service at her church, held in the parking lot. Ocean State Baptist is a close community and many told Liz that Dan was in their hearts.
The pastor at one point said it was time for each soul to pray. Liz prayed for guidance, and as she did, suddenly felt peace.
God, she realized, was telling her it was time to let Dan go.
She shared this with her kids and the Remillard family, and though heartbroken, they agreed.
For closure, they decided to set up a Zoom call so those who loved Dan could say goodbye.
Dan’s sister Cindy had one request — that Liz be present in the hospital room. It gave Cindy comfort that her brother wouldn’t be alone.
Liz arrived at Rhode Island Hospital’s fifth-floor Medical Intensive Care Unit around 2 p.m. that same day, June 28. One other visitor was allowed. Cindy and Dianne felt it would be too hard, so Liz came with Danny’s cousin Lisha Hall.
The two masked and gloved up, and went in.
“Do you feel it,” said Lisha. “There is so much peace in this room.”
Liz indeed felt God’s presence.
For long minutes, Liz spoke to Danny.
“The kids love you,” she said. “And I love you.”
She didn’t want to say the word “goodbye,” so she told him, “We’ll see you again, in heaven.”
Liz held her husband’s hand and with her mask on, kissed him on the forehead.
Then it was time for the Zoom call.
Everyone was amazed at how many people popped up. It seemed over 100 – family, friends and church folk.
“My son was a social butterfly,” Dianne would later say.
As she looked at the Zoom screen on her couch in her Woonsocket home, she thought about Danny’s smile and blue eyes and his heightened way of living – he loved eagles so much, he got a tattoo of one on his back.
One at a time, those on the Zoom bid goodbye to Dan, saying they wished he didn’t have to go.
“My God, grown men crying,” Dianne would recall, “saying how much Danny touched their life.”
People thanked Dan for being there for them, whether plowing out a driveway or having coffee after a Bible study.
It struck Dianne that only two days before, June 26, she had marked her 49th anniversary with Ron. Two days before that, Liz and Dan marked their 14th. It was as if the two men had held on to see their milestones through.
“My heart is breaking,” Dianne said to her son. “You’re the best son a mother could wish for.”
Suddenly, Dianne’s phone rang. She decided not to answer. Then, next to her, a call came in to her daughter Cindy.
It was Ron Remillard’s doctor at the VA.
“I’m sorry to say,” he told her, “but your father just passed.”
Cindy and Dianne shared the sad news on the Zoom.
That’s when Cindy said to her brother, “Go with Daddy – he’s waiting for you.”
There in Danny’s room, Liz thought to herself that now Danny would be with both his dads – his earthly father and the heavenly one.
Liz asked if anyone had anything else to say.
No one did, leaving the hospital room quiet except for the sound of the machines.
The call ended, though Dan’s sister Cindy chose to stay on, to be with her brother to the end.
Liz told the doctors she was ready to let him go.
Minutes later, they took Dan Remillard off the respirator.
Liz continued to hold Danny’s hand.
After only a few minutes, he was gone.
Ron Remillard died of the virus June 28 at 2:45 p.m.
His son Dan passed on that same day, at 3:48 p.m.
Dianne, Cindy and Liz – all the Remillards really – are quite sure dad and son are now together.
Follow Mark Patinkin on Twitter: @markpatinkin.
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