“I remember my husband standing in the doorway saying goodbye to the kids and saying ‘dad has to go to work,’ and he was crying,” recalled Katie Coelho of the day her husband Jonathan left for the hospital.
The Bethel, Connecticut, man had been diagnosed with COVID-19 just a day earlier.
Coelho said she had no idea that was the last time she’d see Jonathan, nor that it was the last time he’d see his two precious children, 2-year-old Braedyn and 10-month-old Penelope.
Coelho said Jonathan’s symptoms started the weekend before with a migraine, lethargy, and the loss of taste and smell. Then he began having terrible coughing attacks.
“I remember him saying, 'this is the worst I’ve ever felt in my life. I just feel awful,'” Coelho said.
He was diagnosed with the coronavirus on a Wednesday and by the next day, realized he could no longer fight at home on his own. He went to Danbury Hospital that Thursday, and by the following Monday was on a ventilator, according to his wife.
“It was really fast how bad it got and he was really scared. We were scared,” she said.
Coelho said the hardest part of the past month was not being by Jonathan’s bedside.
“He was so afraid. He lived his worst fear and he was alone when he did it,” she pointed out.
In the beginning there was FaceTime and texts.
“He said, ‘Babe, am I gonna have to go back to sleep? I said ‘ya, but when you wake up I’m gonna be there to take you home,’” Coelho said tearfully.
Once Jonathan was put on a respirator there were far fewer talks.
“He looked at the nurse and said, 'say ‘I love you, I’m sorry,’ and they said we need to call you back, and that was the last time I heard my husband’s voice,” she recalled.
Jonathan, just 32 years old, was intubated four days after he was hospitalized. Coelho said she feared that the longer he was on a ventilator the less his chances were of surviving.
“Jonathan was so close to beating that statistic and he was doing so well, and I don’t know what happened,” she said.
On the evening of April 21, Coelho had a conversation with Jonathan’s doctor that left her hopeful. He was starting to breath on his own. Then hours later, she received a middle-of the-night phone call from the hospital.
“I just yelled out, ‘Oh God,’” she recalled.
Jonathan was in cardiac arrest. An hour later, he was gone. His 28-day fight with COVID-19 was over.
“I wasn’t able to just hold his hand until he was already gone,” Coelho said tearfully.
Coelho said Jonathan had no pre-existing conditions.
Because their son has special needs, including a severe form of cerebral palsy, Coelho said Jonathan would take extra care when he came home from his shift as a probation officer. While the rest of the family had been in self-quarantine since the pandemic began, he would strip his clothes and take a shower before even interacting with the rest of the family. She said his hands were rubbed raw because he washed them so much.
“He was so afraid of something happening to us and it happened it him,” she said.
His loss has left her with an indescribable pain and two young children to raise on her own.
The two met in college and became each other’s best friend, she said.
“I remember him saying, ‘One Day I’m going to dance at your wedding,” she recalled of the time he helped her through a bad breakup.
She said neither of them expected that dance would be with each other. Coelho smiled as she thought back to better times.
“He is the happiest, most loving human being and you can see that in his smile. You look at him and you know that he loves life, he loves what he has,” she said.
Coelho added that the couple faced tough times before meeting. Jonathan successfully beat childhood cancer twice. Coelho said because he’d been in remission more than 15 years doctors said it did not affect his chances of surviving COVID-19. They also struggled with infertility and Braedyn’s health condition.
“We shouldn’t be as blessed as we are but we are so blessed and then this was supposed to be another miracle,” Coelho said.
She never expected the day Jonathan left for the hospital to be the last time she’d see him. However, it wasn’t the last time she’d hear from him.
“I saw the note and my dad was standing next to me and I said, I just started screaming, ‘He left me a note,” Coelho recalled.
She said her husband wrote a goodbye note on his cell phone on March 29, the night before he was intubated. He left it open on his phone for Katie to see.
“I’m so happy I have it, but when I read it it breaks my heart I wasn’t there,” Coelho said, crying.
“I love you guys with all my heart and you’ve given me the best life I could have asked for,” the note starts. “Seeing you be the best mom to the kids is the greatest thing I’ve ever experienced.”
“I know he loved me but just seeing it in words is just I just want to hug him, and hold him, and tell him how much we love him too,” she said. “When he addressed the kids personally and said that Braedyn was his best friend and Penny was a princess, those are things he said all the time at home with them and I keep hearing my husband’s voice in my head calling Braedyn my buddy and Princess Penelope he used to say, hearing him write those words I hear him saying it and I’ll never hear him say it out loud again.”
Coelho’s heart breaks knowing her husband wrote that note alone in a hospital bed three weeks before he passed away.
“I couldn’t imagine what it does to you mentally and emotionally to say goodbye to your family,” she said.
Coelho also knows Braedyn and Penelope are too young to remember their father.
“It hurts that I have to tell them and they don’t know but I’m so lucky I get to tell them cause that just means what a spectacular human being Jonathan is,” she said. “No matter what, he would just make sure that they were always laughing and giggling.”
She said she’ll share the letter with them when they’re older, but wishes she had more.
“I’m so glad you have it. I’m so glad I can share it with my kids as they get older, but I hate the fact that’s what I have left,” she said. “He loved and he loved hard and everyone who’s been lucky enough to know him and really know Jonathan can say they’re the most lucky human beings to have known somebody like that,” she said.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, she urges others to take it seriously.
“I have my kids, but the biggest part of our family’s gone. So, people just really need to understand that this takes lives and even after everything’s lifted it’s never going to be normal again,” Coelho said.