“The empty house felt both familiar and foreign. -2-


I was re-booked on a British Airways flight to London. I should make my own way from London to Liverpool. I thanked the check-in agent and echoed through the airport to my flight. There were maybe two dozen passengers on the plane, which was staffed by a volunteer crew.

May 6 to May 11, 2020

Arriving in London, I passed through an equally deserted Heathrow airport. I felt like I was in “28 Days Later”, the zombie apocalypse movie.

Before moving to New York in 2004, I had lived in London for nine years, but hadn’t been there for ages. After taking the train to Paddington, I jumped into a taxi and sped off to Euston station. It was a glorious spring morning: Regent’s Park and the city’s Georgian buildings were bathed in sunshine. London was beautiful but silent. Streets that would normally have been packed with commuters were quiet as only a few well-dressed people walked to work. I realized that I hadn’t been to my own office in New York for two months.

When I lived in London, Euston was the start of my trip home to visit my parents in Liverpool. Now I was returning to an empty house. The train was almost empty. I had a car all to myself. Behind the window, everything else seemed deserted too. Station platforms on the outskirts of London were largely devoid of travellers.

There was even less activity outside the city, and I suddenly noticed things I had missed on my countless trips back to Liverpool. The ruins of Berkhamsted Castle in Hertfordshire stand amidst lush green lawns. A few cows crossing a stream. Every once in a while I would spot people – a young family biking on a country trail – but in general it felt like I was traveling through empty land.

Eventually, the familiar Liverpool skyline rose on the horizon, and I was soon back on the doorstep of my father’s house. I turned the key and, again taking a deep breath, walked inside. Entering the house wasn’t as painful as February, as the shock was less new and I had the funeral service to focus on. But I was now in quarantine. There would be no crowds of visitors, no comforting arms around my shoulders, no hugs.

The next day, friends, family and neighbors stood socially distanced outside the house as the hearse stopped and began its short journey to the cemetery. Finally, I laid my father down to rest.

We streamed the funeral service on Facebook (META), which I would have balked at a few months earlier. I gave my eulogy in the hot sun, knowing that my wife and children were watching across the Atlantic.

I returned to New York a few days later, among half a dozen fare-paying passengers on a transatlantic flight.

Christmas 2020

At Christmas I returned to Liverpool, this time with my wife and children. As we made our way through Dublin, the new UK variant of the coronavirus was making headlines. We spent quarantine emptying the house while the kids watched endless television. The central heating was broken, as was the water boiler. Visitors had to stand in the garden, usually in the rain.

It was a sad and uncomfortable stay in the house that gave me joy and refuge when my parents were alive. Our return flight was canceled and then canceled again. Finally, we made a foray into Liverpool city center to be tested for COVID-19 so that we could board our flight home. The contents of the house filled two dumpsters, the detritus of a family life that had come to an end. With the taxi waiting to take us to the airport, we threw the Christmas tree over the dumpster, lights and all.

February 24, 2021

The sale of my dad’s house was complete, a year to the day since I took that phone call in Manhattan. My last view of the house was on a video call as my Uncle Joe retrieved the last personal items we had left behind.

August 24, 2021

Another transatlantic phone call. Sitting at my dining table in Brooklyn, I called a conference call organized by the UK coroner’s office. The survey lasted approximately 15 minutes. My father’s cause of death was “undetermined”.

August 30, 2022

I will return to Liverpool with my family for my father’s memorial mass, finally ending our long goodbye.

This essay is part of a MarketWatch series, Dispatches from a Pandemic, which began in March 2020.

Learn more

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(END) Dow Jones Newswire

08-27-22 1423ET

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