ST. PETERSBURG — The family took their seats under the green cemetery tent and passed hand sanitizer row to row. Yes, Lord, my life is yours drifted from the speakers. Boyzell Hosey prayed in front, facing the bone-white casket and the empty space beside it.
A man from the funeral home passed out two memorial cards.
In Loving Memory: Amos Hosey.
Forever in our hearts: Roy Hosey.
Boyzell wiped his glasses and nodded as the bishop talked of trusting the hand of God. It was Nov. 21. His elderly father had died on the 5th. His older brother had passed on the 15th. Soon there would be a memorial for his brother-in-law, Bob, who had died in between. Boyzell himself had fought COVID-19 and was only a week out of the hospital, where his sister had gone for treatment, too.
The Hoseys bowed their heads.
Boyzell’s wife, Andrida, walked the grass in a white robe overlaid in gold. She picked up her long skirt and spread it like wings. A piped-in electric organ wailed, and Beau Williams crooned: One of these mornings — it won’t be very long — you’re going to look for me, and I’ll be gone...
In face shields, Andrida and fellow dancers spun, shimmered, lifted their hands. With the music came the soft pop of umbrellas. The morning’s pale sky had darkened, and a mist began to fall.
Boyzell swayed. At 56, he found himself the sudden patriarch, the man everybody was looking to. He watched his wife lay her hands upon his father’s casket and shout her grief. Roy’s body waited to be cremated.
Family members packed their chairs closer to escape the rain as the Rev. Frank Peterman echoed the words Boyzell had been clinging to all month.
“In times of trouble, stand,” the reverend said. “When you’ve done all the standing, stand some more.”
Andrida cried, “Hallelujah!”
After scripture and tributes, mourners fist-bumped and waved goodbye. As the funeral home crew packed up folding chairs, cemetery workers approached the gravesite. Without ceremony, they lowered the casket.
Boyzell stood at its foot, holding one red rose. His shoulders briefly heaved. He kissed the rose and, gently, tossed it into the earth. For a moment, he let his hand hang there, empty.
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• • •
By fall, the Hoseys, like so many, had eased up on some early-pandemic anxieties. The compulsive hand-washers of spring were still wearing masks and scrubbing their palms but also reconnecting with a few friends they’d missed.
On Sundays, Boyzell and Andrida pulled up for drive-in church, where honking the horn meant “Preach!” For Andrida’s birthday month, they planned a couple of Doc Ford’s double dates on the breezy Pier. And they’d begun in-person work once more. For Andrida, that meant teaching drama at John Hopkins Middle School. Boyzell picked up a shoot here and there for the Tampa Bay Times.
He and Andrida had been married for 28 years, best friends even longer. As deputy editor of photography at the Times, Boyzell brought a sensitive hand and an artful eye. Andrida, 63, brought the big heart and legendary hugs to the couple’s many deep friendships. They were community fixtures — involved in their church, local festivals, volunteer work and more — and a family with much to be thankful for. Andrida had recently made it through a knee replacement surgery, and Boyzell was on the mend with a new hip. Their kids were grown: Jacquay, 34, in Pittsburgh, and Kiashi, 35, here in town, teaching at their church’s school.
Are we really safe? Boyzell sometimes wondered. When friends went to hug Andrida at Walmart, he teased, “Honey, you cannot do that anymore.” Bombarded with pandemic news, Boyzell leaned toward caution. The isolation was harder on his wife. But after a September dinner party, Boyzell told her, “We have to slow down, because this thing is real, and it’s kicking up.”
Four houses down from Boyzell and Andrida’s green bungalow lived Papa Hosey, or Amos. At 91, with a lung tumor, he was in declining health. Boyzell’s brother Roy had moved in there a couple of years ago to become his dad’s caregiver. At 67, Roy was mending family ties after years of being estranged.
Two days before Halloween, sister Kathy moved in to help, too. She had just retired from criminal investigations with the federal government and at 63, she looked forward to the Florida life.
Kiashi picked her aunt up from the airport. At first, Kathy worried — her niece wrangled kids all day and wasn’t wearing a mask. But she knew that likely didn’t matter, since the two houses blended so much. Soon, she’d see that Roy went to Save A Lot nearly every day, popping into the 7-Eleven for lottery tickets. Sometimes, his nose peeked out from his mask. Others at the grocery store, Kathy would see, neglected to wear one at all.
It was a jolt, coming from Los Angeles, where she had kept isolated, following all the guidelines. Because of her multiple sclerosis, she knew she was at risk.
Up the road, that same night, Boyzell roasted salmon and cooked up a pot of his famous collard greens. Andrida brought home a key lime pie — and a mango version — to indulge a different guest at a small dinner. It was her brother Bob McCall’s 61st birthday.
She and Bob were tight, each other’s only sibling. He was social like her, a motivational speaker visiting from North Carolina for a conference. Around the table, the family split cornbread and talked, and kept talking as Thursday Night Football rumbled in the background. Bob, a former vice president for Duke Energy, a collector of Corvettes, was grateful for a home-cooked meal.
After dinner, the back of Boyzell’s head began to ache. After a while, sluggishness hit. He checked his temperature: 99.9. An hour later, Bob headed back to his hotel.
On that Friday, Oct. 30th, Andrida went to work. Home alone, Boyzell tracked his fever as it climbed: 100, 101. Tylenol helped knock it down. He developed a dry cough.
On Halloween, stomach cramping, fever rising, wracked by chills, Boyzell needed to know. The waiting room at AFC Urgent Care near Tyrone Mall was packed. Four hours, $85 and an antibiotic prescription later: Positive.
His doctor said to call if he had breathing issues. Otherwise, Boyzell would have to endure.
• • •
Roy insisted he was fine. He could smell and taste, he said, whereas Boyzell had lost his sense of smell. But Kathy found Roy, some days, shivering under the covers. She saw him using his nebulizer more and more. After years of homelessness and addiction, he struggled with weight gain and health issues, like chronic asthma. Kathy wondered. “Did you get a test?” she asked.
Normally, Roy handled the meals and most of Amos’s needs. He was good at caregiving, and usually energetic — he liked to bust into Boyzell’s house blasting his ’70s R&B, like a 2020 Radio Raheem. But Halloween weekend, Roy didn’t get up to cook breakfast. He asked, “Can you take care of Dad?”
One day, Amos tried to get out of bed by himself and fell. As Roy pried Amos from the floor, Kathy saw how hard he was working.
“I don’t need to get the test,” Roy finally said. “I know I have it.”
• • •
Boyzell camped out in the family room, Andrida the office, and Kiashi her bedroom. Boyzell let Bob know he should get tested and alerted a friend who’d come over for a World Series pizza.
Flung apart in the house, the family called each other to coordinate bathroom trips and snacks from the kitchen. They left mists of Lysol in their wake.
Kiashi had no symptoms, but a rapid test soon came back positive. Andrida let co-workers know she’d be quarantining, though her test had been negative.
In between Star Wars movies and episodes of The Incredible Hulk, Boyzell could hear Andrida and Kiashi teaching classes online. He ate the homemade chicken noodle soup Roy sent over. He chugged water. He felt helpless.
Normally, come Election Day, he would be dispatching Times photojournalists and editing their frames. But the human resources director told him, “We don’t want you trying to work.”
Then, on Nov. 4th, Kathy called to say, “I don’t think Dad’s doing too well.”
The family had been preparing for the inevitable. But Amos was still lucid, glad for a barbershop outing. He’d been a stern father, but a giving one, too, who built the family’s red-brick home frame by frame. In old age, after decades of stoking the blast furnace in a steel mill, Amos finally relaxed. Kiashi sometimes heard him singing in his room.
Kathy phoned again the next day. Amos hadn’t been eating.
“He’s calling for you,” she told Boyzell.
Boyzell managed to walk over. His sister raised a window so the men could see each other through the screen. “Hey, Pops, how you doing?” Boyzell said. Amos raised up from bed, smiling and waving, saying nothing. “I’m sorry I can’t come see you right now,” Boyzell said. Amos soon fell asleep.
An hour and a half later, Kathy called. “I think Dad passed away.”
Boyzell walked back over. He touched his dad’s face, still warm. He was saying bye to me, he thought.
Roy had finally gone to get a test, but, ever stubborn, turned back, because the line was too long — and because, he said, he had a feeling something was wrong. He pulled up at the house as his father was being taken away.
• • •
The day after their father passed, Roy and Kathy tidied Amos’s room. It was stuffy. Roy got on the stepstool to open up the air conditioning vents. He could hardly lift his hands over his head.
He fell. He hit his head on a dresser and couldn’t get up.
Kathy watched her brother being put into the ambulance, unsteady and straining to breathe.
Roy called Boyzell from the hospital the next day. Boyzell said, “Just worry about getting better.”
• • •
A week into November, Andrida could hear Boyzell’s coughs across the house. On video calls, his eyes seemed sunken in. He stared at the tube he was given to exercise his breathing, willing himself to try, but each effort zapped his energy. His fever wouldn’t break. He used a pulse oximeter to measure his blood oxygen levels, which dropped to 88, 87 percent. He tried to trick it by sitting still: 92.
Andrida often checked in with her friend Sharon Irving, a nurse practitioner and Ivy League professor. They had been college roommates, and by 2020, were more like sisters. Andrida told her she, too, had started feeling strange. A fever had set in. Then, chills.
Sharon, in Philadelphia, told Andrida, “Don’t play with this.” To Boyzell, she said, “I don’t like how you’re sounding.” She asked both: “Did you eat? Did you drink?” Anger flared as she thought of how the virus had kept Boyzell from his father’s side: We didn’t have to be here.
Sharon feared for Roy, too. He ticked too many boxes where the virus had proven lethal: a Black man, with chronic asthma, on the overweight side.
That Sunday night, after Andrida got back from taking another test, Bayfront called. Roy was in critical condition. He was going on a ventilator. What? Boyzell and Andrida thought. Didn’t we just talk to him?
The next day, Boyzell paced in the yard, pumping his arms and chanting to himself: Just keep, just keep, just keep breathing. But he knew he was going downhill.
His doctor wanted a chest X-ray. That meant the emergency room.
• • •
Boyzell took a shower and ate a bowl of oatmeal, some yogurt. He readied himself. Andrida watched him walk into the crowded lobby of St. Anthony’s. Five steps after he was given an intake clipboard, staff called, “Mr. Hosey!”
A nurse led him down a lonely hallway cold as a meat locker. Hours passed there, until he was taken to a temporary room, alone.
Doctors ran tests, hooked him to an IV. His potassium was low. A lot of things were low. They wanted to keep him.
At home, taking antibiotics and contending with a 102-degree fever, Andrida called her brother, who was back in Charlotte. They talked about Boyzell and Roy. “Are you doing OK?” she asked. Bob sniffled a bit.
• • •
About 24 hours after checking in, Boyzell settled into a room in the COVID-19 unit. It was immaculate, quiet. He learned that pneumonia had taken root in his lungs.
The hours passed in his hospital bed, where, between nebulizer and steroid treatments, he worked to plan his father’s memorial. He’d been told that Amos died of natural causes, but Boyzell thought maybe it was the virus. His father had complained of a headache just days before he died.
He tried to write his dad’s obituary but thinking through the exhaustion was too difficult. He dozed. Though he was an asthmatic with a worrisome case, he fixated only on his family:
Roy was sedated, vitals waning. Bayfront doctors went looking for a rotating bed big enough to fit him, so they could ease the weight on his lungs.
Andrida called to say her latest test came back positive and that “Bob doesn’t sound good.” Called again, saying, no, Bob sounded like death.
What’s going on? Andrida thought. Bob had gotten antibiotics, and he told her, “Well, they said give it a day.” She insisted, “But you’re not breathing right!” By the 12th, her fever on the edge of breaking, she was begging Bob’s wife to take him to the hospital.
Before her class the next morning, Bob said he felt better. He’d gotten a negative test. Still, she could hear his ragged breathing.
At 5 p.m., Bob’s wife called. She had pulled up after work and found Bob in the driver’s seat of his car, his eyes rolling back in his head. She had tried to pull him out, but he collapsed to the ground.
Not only was he positive for COVID-19, the hospital said, but it was full-blown.
This can’t be happening, Andrida thought.
This is Bob, Boyzell thought. Bob, all muscles and work ethic and made-for-TV smile. Bob, the former bodybuilder who went to the gym at 5 a.m.
“Mom, it’s Uncle Bob, it’ll be OK,” Kiashi said.
At 10 p.m., they learned that doctors couldn’t regulate Bob’s blood pressure. He was going on a ventilator.
Andrida called her friend, asking about intubation.
Sharon took a deep breath. “I don’t know if Bobby’s as sick as Roy, but in terms of putting him on a machine to breathe, that’s the same,” she said.
When she hung up, Sharon repeated to herself, Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness.
Andrida and Kiashi couldn’t take the separation anymore. They burrowed under the covers of the master bed, praying, holding on to each other as they cried. They left a laptop open so Boyzell could see them.
At 4 a.m., Bob’s wife called. Bob was going into cardiac arrest.
Andrida watched on a video call as her brother lay with tubes blanketing his face. His wife rubbed his smooth, bald head. “He’s gone,” she repeated, and Andrida took a picture because she couldn’t believe it. While Kiashi cried, she screamed and begged, God, please, let him breathe.
It was dark outside Boyzell’s hospital window. He could only listen to the women’s keening through the screen, and he couldn’t bear it. He tried to push himself up from the bed and pull out his IV — but Kiashi began to pray, pleading with him to wait, to stay.
Boyzell breathed deep, in through his nose, out through his mouth.
They stayed on FaceTime for a long time like that, just breathing.
• • •
How could this be happening? Kiashi held her mother, numb, on the red loveseat in the living room.
In the hospital, Boyzell felt suspended in a nightmare. Just stand, he told himself, called back to that Bible passage. Calls flooded in from Bayfront. Roy’s health was cratering.
He could be flown to Tampa General Hospital across the bay. Doctors there could drill into his lungs and, with tubes, release the viral toxins.
But the doctors explained that Roy likely wouldn’t survive such a flight, that trauma would take its toll on his brain. They said it was rare for someone to last so long with the ventilator so high. They asked that Boyzell consider classifying Roy as “do not resuscitate.”
“I’ve got to give him a fighting chance,” Boyzell told Sharon. “I want my brother back.”
“You want the brother that you sent to the hospital,” Sharon said. “I’m not sure that’s the brother you’re going to get back.”
Boyzell was quiet.
They ran through more scenarios, more questions.
It was late when Boyzell agreed. But it felt like signing Roy’s death warrant.
As Boyzell waited to be discharged the next morning, he tuned into Bethel Church’s livestream as leaders prayed over the Hoseys. His phone lit up with Bayfront’s number. He cut off the stream.
Roy, too, was gone.
• • •
Andrida wept. Amos, Bob, Roy.
Now Kathy was calling in distress from down the block.
Kiashi insisted she go check on her aunt.
“I don’t want anything to happen to you,” Andrida pleaded. Desperate, she bundled her daughter in makeshift protection — long sleeves, a hat and a raincoat — and watched her go.
While Roy had been hospitalized, Kathy’s health had come undone. Her appetite vanished. Holding her head up became hard. Some moments, she felt delirious. She had visited the emergency room but was sent away because she hadn’t been struggling for breath. Now, she was.
Kathy told Kiashi she was too tired to do anything, but Kiashi needed her aunt’s attention. She called her dad. Maybe the news of Roy’s death would snap Kathy out of her fog.
Kathy’s eyes grew wide in shock. “Call 911 right now,” Boyzell said.
The moment registered for Kathy like a horror story: The virus was in the house. She couldn’t hide. She had to get out.
When paramedics came, an EMT tried to talk the family down. Kathy didn’t have a fever, he said, though she was on a fever reducer. “They’re not going to do anything for her,” he said.
“Kiashi, tell that damn man to take my sister to St. Anthony’s,” Boyzell said. His voice, finally, sounded stronger.
• • •
A few days after the double memorial, Boyzell took the wheel as Andrida, Kiashi and Kiashi’s boyfriend drove north.
The drive was slow, almost therapeutic.
Kathy had been released after receiving oxygen, convalescent plasma and five doses of Remdesivir from health care workers in Hazmat suits. Everyone else had recovered, too.
How did it get into our home? The family still wondered.
Was it the students at the middle school or the church?
Was it Roy, going to the shopping center?
Was it Kiashi’s church, up in Largo, which held services indoors?
And Bob: Was it a Steelers watch party, a skeet-shooting outing — or that dinner?
Was it this friend, that cashier, this moment, that moment?
Could they ever know?
Their closeness as a family had always helped them endure hard times. But what kept them strong also may have made them vulnerable.
In North Carolina, they had an hour to drop bags in their hotel rooms before driving to the funeral home. Mourners were already seated when the Hoseys opened the doors. They walked up the long aisle toward the front of the chapel, with Bob in his casket ahead. Andrida’s legs buckled while Boyzell held her up. Over Bob’s body, she wailed.
Boyzell looked down at Bob in his black-and-gold Steelers suit. With his father and brother, he’d been able to pour himself into planning, leading. Before Bob, he was powerless. He patted Bob on the chest. He kept moving, past the casket, to keep himself from breaking down.
This month, Boyzell and Andrida have urged friends to be diligent. Take this seriously, they say. It hurts more, now, to see people who believe they’re invincible.
The couple drives to the bay most days to watch the pale sunrise, toting a walking stick Roy carved.
One morning, their meditation app played a segment about Mary and Martha, who had begged Jesus to bring their brother Lazarus back to life. “Turn it off,” Andrida said. “That’s what I prayed for when my brother died.”
Then she thought, There must be a message I need to hear. “Turn it back on,” she said.
As for Boyzell, he returns often to that passage in Ephesians, the one about standing, and standing firm.
This story is part of a collaboration with Frontline, the PBS series, through its Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
• • •
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