VIRUS DIARY – The unfinished business of a funeral postponed


Recently, I realized at Nashville airport that the pandemic would not end at the same moment for everyone. I expected to see a few more travelers, but it was jam-packed. Many people were wearing masks, but social distancing was not a common practice.

I flew to my mother’s house to visit her. Nevertheless, I knew it would take a while before we could settle into what “normal” looks like moving forward.

There are many unfinished business around the world, including graduations and anniversaries. The increase in demand has driven airfares up. Different reasons people travel, but most of them have been freely moving for months, whether they are vaccinated.

There will be funerals. It is difficult to say goodbye when you cannot be there in person. This is the last thing my family needs to do.

Bernard Francis Lyons Jr. was my father and he died from COVID shortly before Christmas. His death was caused by nurses in a long-term facility close to our home. He last spoke with us via video chat.

My wife and my sister decided not to attempt to create a virtual memorial. It seemed logistically difficult and not enough. We are not the only ones who feel that a life as important as Bernie’s deserves better than being remembered as just one of over half-a-million Americans who suffered from this horrible illness.

So, in honor of him, we’ll drive to New England later this year.

Bernie Lyons, a Rhode Island-born Irish-American working class man who received a psychology doctorate and spent the rest of his life helping troubled children in Knoxville.

He was a skilled storyteller and was prone to exaggerate the achievements of those he loved. Each time he told a story, it became more extraordinary. These stories were born from the achievements of his daughters, his love for opera or any other eclectic field of study that he was reading about, such as the sex lives and weather patterns of Antarctica jellyfish.

Six years before his wife Anne died, Bernie spent his final years in Nashville long-term care as his memory declined. His gentle nature was still there and we would often see him talking with a resident or staff member. He was loved by some of his female residents.

My sister and my wife will always remember Bernie at Weekapaug in Rhode Island. Anne and he spent their summers at the Dunes Trailer Park. It is a small enclave nestled between resorts and beach houses.

My wife’s cousins adored that beach and would descend every time they made it. We would bodysurf together on the waves, play touch football at the beach and then have dinner under their awning. Bernie presided over it all, entertaining us with stories, music, and laughter. Sometimes, we would play “Stump Uncle Bernie”, dreaming up the most absurd questions. Although he always had the right answer, it wasn’t always correct.

It will feel good to be back together after all of this, and the memorial will more celebrate than mourn. We’ll all go to the beach together at some point, probably around dusk.

It will be cool in the fall there, but I like the thought that the spirits of Anne and Bernie will also be there. You can imagine them sitting quietly on the weathered lifeguard stand smoking and talking.

Bernie may pause to take in the moment he sees us. He may even be amazed at how much we all love him. He will then tell Anne stories that may or not be true.

Most of them will be familiar to her. They will make her smile.