Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

On four year anniversary of covid, families remember flags on Mall

When Nicholas Montemarano’s parents were diagnosed with covid a few days before Christmas in 2020, he was more worried about his father, who had preexisting conditions.

The doctor gave Catherine Montemarano, 79, steroids and antibiotics and sent her home, but her fever rose and she was admitted to an Indiana hospital on New Year’s Eve.

But by Jan. 6, 2021,the doctor summoned the family. Nicholas Montemarano drove 600 miles from his home in Lancaster, Pa., worrying about his mother as the insurrection unfolded at the U.S. Capitol. For a while, her health seemed to improve, but soon doctors were recommending palliative care.

On Jan. 15, doctors allowed Montemarano and his twin sister, a nurse, to blanket themselves in personal protective equipment and be there for the final day of their mother’s life.

“I just cannot imagine how much harder it would have been and would still be if we were not able to be with her,” he said.

The family held a Mass with 10 people, including his wife and son. A legal secretary, a Catholic and devoted grandmother of three, Catherine Montemarano supported foster children around the world, writing them letters and sending photos.

Months later, he learned of the flags project from a virtual support group and registered one online, writing, “We miss you, mom.” and drove to D.C. with his family.

He began to cry as soon as he approached the installation and saw the death toll sign, and he didn’t stop until he found her flag.

“It was almost like I was visiting my mother’s grave,” he said. “It gave us tangible space and a place for collective mourning.”

They sat in the grass, taking in the one public place where he could shed tears without anyone wondering why. “They all knew,” he said.

Until his mother’s death, Montemarano, a creative writing professor at Franklin & Marshall College and novelist, wrote almost exclusively fiction. In less than a month, he found himself with a memoir.

He said writing the book, “If There Are Any Heavens,” published in July 2022, helped him to heal.

“For people who lost a loved one, we’re never going back to normal,” he said.

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