Thanking Those Who Got Us Through It – The New York Times

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Readers tell us their stories of support during the pandemic.
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Welcome to the Virus Briefing, your comprehensive guide to the latest news and expert analysis on the coronavirus pandemic and other outbreaks.
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As the pandemic raged, many of us found ourselves relying on others — family, friends, even complete strangers — for support and connection. Some of us created uncharacteristically strong bonds during that uncertain time.
Looking back, if you had the opportunity to thank someone, whom would you thank? And what would you say to that person?
That was the idea behind our I Want to Thank You series. We asked readers whom they would like to thank, and then asked Joshua Needelman, a reporter, to help them tell their stories. We also sent photographers to capture what those bonds look like today.
“To read some of these stories is really a reminder of how important support from other people was during that time,” said Dan Saltzstein, who edited the project. “There was so much confusion, and there was an underlying fear of losing our sense of human connection. For many people who wrote in, they are thanking people for reaching out at a time when so many people felt an immense sense of vulnerability.”
We’ve included a couple excerpts in our newsletter today, and you can read more here.
On the morning of June 25, 2020, something compelled Elizabeth Smith awake at 5:30. She walked to the hospice bed of her husband, Larry, and held his hand. His breathing had become uneven. Then it slowed.
“And then it became erratic,” Ms. Smith, 72, said, her voice softening. “And then he squeezed my hand really, really hard. He took one last breath, and he died.”
Mr. Smith’s death, at 71, left her heartbroken and even more lonely during the early days of the pandemic. The couple had moved from Connecticut, where Mr. Smith had been a police captain, to Vermillion, S.D., in 1999. He was forced to retire after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and so Ms. Smith accepted a tenured professorship in the University of South Dakota’s political science department. Mr. Smith opened a bakery that, according to, baked “the best bread in the world.”
The day after his death, Ms. Smith brought her husband’s ashes to a friend’s front lawn for a socially distanced gathering of friends — Lana Svien, Jo Pasqualucci, Susanne Skyrm and Martha Fagg. As the summer wore on, the quintet — all single, retired and around the same age — often hung out on Ms. Smith’s lawn to share laughs and meals. When temperatures chilled, they moved the lawn chairs to Ms. Smith’s open garage, which they outfitted with space heaters and dubbed “Cafe Covid.”
Ms. Smith and her friends also share a love of the outdoors. She spent much of her first weeks without her husband kayaking the Missouri River, often with at least one of the self-described “Usual Suspects.”
On Ms. Smith’s first Thanksgiving after her husband’s death, they gathered on her front porch for a potluck meal.
“Having each other has been really a gift,” she said.
Victoria Bernuth didn’t have to worry about groceries during the worst months of the pandemic.
Bernuth, 74, never left her Pleasant Hill, Ore., farm, but she found a lifeline in Drew Johnson, 43, whom she had met at a local meeting for humanists before Covid hit. Johnson, a former youth pastor, would drop off her groceries, and then the two would take long walks along the country roads near Bernuth’s farm.
As they walked and talked 15 feet apart, bonding in part over their shared atheism, Bernuth’s loneliness lifted.
“We’re not romantic,” Bernuth said. “But we just have a deep affection for each other and caring for each other.”
Bernuth and Johnson had taken several road trips before the pandemic, and after Bernuth got her first Covid vaccine in March 2021, he floated an idea: “C’mon, let’s go to the beach.”
Bernuth teared up on the car ride to Beverly Beach, about two hours away; it was her first time being physically close to a person in almost a year. The trip was calming; they worked on crossword puzzles, looked out on the ocean and went on long walks.
“He is the joy and light of my life,” Bernuth said.
The I Want to Thank You series will continue with future articles that focus on health care workers and inspirational figures.
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We asked our readers whom they would like to thank during the pandemic. Your notes were incredibly touching. Thank you to everyone who wrote in.
“In 2020, we were stuck inside and our kids were climbing the walls. I ended up buying used books each week, just to offer some alternative to screens. But I quickly came up short. I didn’t even know what books to choose for them. Our local library finally allowed you to request books, and they would leave them for you at the library door with an ‘Additional Request’ form. I sent a note of desperation. ‘Help. I don’t know what my kids want to read. Can you help us?’ M-J the Librarian left a handwritten note that week: ‘How old are your kids? What do they like? What was the last book they loved?’ And just like that, for weeks and weeks, M-J surprised and delighted my kids with specially selected piles for each one of them, with a note of encouragement or recommendation tucked in. She opened their minds. She revived curiosity and surprise. She upended monotony. M-J, on days where boredom and anxiety reigned, when I watched my children’s mental health flounder, you showed up. We are indebted to you more than you let us tell you in hushed whispers at the library. We will never forget your kindness. Or the books you sent to save us.” — Ariele Mortkowitz, Washington, D.C.
“In the midst of working Covid nursing, my family and friends rallied around me as I dealt with periods of intense depression and disassociation. I had to move back in with my parents for over a year to cope and stay alive. To my parents: You have worked hard to try and understand mental illness. I applaud you for your effort and all your support. Even when you weren’t sure what to do, you always showed up.” — R. Moore, Houston, Texas
“RDJ and I had known each other all our lives, but we weren’t close friends. However, he knew a member of my family was immune-compromised and that I went out very little because I didn’t want to risk bringing anything back home with me. So he did grocery shopping for us. He was there, on the other side of my email, sometimes several times a day. He cashed checks and brought the money to me. In short, he did everything my family and I needed done without question and with no reward. And he did his best to find things that interested me to deflect depression. He was truly one of the heroes of the pandemic, but died himself last January. Hey, I miss you, not because of the immense help you’ve been to me and my family, but because I don’t have you in my life now. I wish you were here.” — Lorna Jennings, Lubbock, Texas
“I am a nurse, and my husband is immuno-compromised. I am extremely grateful for all the people who took this pandemic seriously by wearing their masks when indoors and getting the Covid-19 vaccinations and boosters. Thank you for easing my anxiety each time I go to the grocery store. A huge thank-you to all the parents who masked their children while in the store. That showed how much you cared and respected others and the virus.” — Lynn Miser, Ohio
“I was convinced that I could protect my family by not having them so much as even look outside, let alone be outside. I would hysterically spray sanitizer all over the house, meticulously clean the groceries, forbid my husband to even talk to anyone after coming from the Covid facility. I could feel that I was going crazy, but I kept rationalizing it. My then 7-year-old daughter, already struggling through online classes, cautiously treaded around me so as not to tick me off. I could feel them quietly distancing away from me. One person who saw through that hysteria was my mother. As I plunged down a dark well of inner turmoil, she took me by her soft hands and pulled me out. Who said Covid only affected the lungs? For me, it infected my mind without even entering my body. Amidst all the insanity, Mamma told me not to lose the most important people in my life to fear. Did I thank her enough for rescuing me? Love you, Mamma. If it wasn’t for you, I would’ve washed all the fruit in soap and sprayed all the clothes with sanitizer! Worse, I would’ve given in to my fears and anxiety.” — Hiba Tohid, Louisville, Ky.
The head of the World Health Organization said the end of the pandemic “is in sight,” Reuters reports.
The population-adjusted Covid death toll in 2022 has been about 40 percent higher in counties that heavily voted for Trump than in Biden strongholds, The Washington Post reports.
After spending all of the pandemic hunkered down in China, Xi Jinping, the country’s leader, finally left for his first foreign trip in more than two years.
After struggling to respond to a crushing Covid caseload, many hospitals are remodeling for the next crisis.
Researchers have discovered an antibody that neutralized all variants of Covid in mice, The Boston Globe reports.
What is brain fog, and how can I treat it?
The C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, told Senate lawmakers that monkeypox cases were continuing to slow, CNBC reports.
With cases dropping in the U.S. and Europe, scientists say it’s time to send vaccines to Africa, The Associated Press reports.
The journal Nature has an updated look at the death rate of the virus.
FiveThirtyEight explores why monkeypox hasn’t become a pandemic.
The W.H.O. added the U.S. to a list of about 30 countries where polio is circulating, Axios reports.
While it has resurfaced in wealthy countries, polio still poses a far bigger threat to poor countries, Science argues.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back Wednesday. — Jonathan
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