"I'm sorry I can't kiss you"

A brutal hallmark of the pandemic is the way it isolates its victims even in their final moments. Patients die alone in hospital rooms, cut off from their spouses, children, siblings and often their pastors or rabbis. The emotional end-of-life moments, if they happen at all, unfold over an electronic tablet or phone, with a stranger serving as an intermediary.

“I struggle with saying words like ‘unfair,’ but that is what it really feels like,” says David “Michael” Dudley Jr. He said goodbye to his 61-year-old father, who was dying from the new coronavirus, over a Zoom videoconference on March 31. “You’re not only telling me my dad is not going to recover,” he says, “but I can’t even be there to say anything. I’ve got to do it in probably the most impersonal way possible.”

The elder Mr. Dudley, a charter bus driver, had woken up with a cough one week earlier and was on a ventilator in a Baltimore hospital. The younger Mr. Dudley, 36, didn’t know if his father could hear him, but he had things he wanted to say, mainly “I love you.” He strained to get the words out in the awkward group call with other relatives, and doctors and nurses in the hospital room.

“I squeezed one in at the end,” he says.

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