VIRUS DIARY: The kids, at a distance, caring for `Madad'

In this April 16, 2020, photo, John OConnor, a reporter for The Associated Press in Springfield, Ill., holds a photo of his parents, Jack and Shirley OConnor, and him at their 60th wedding anniversary celebration on Jan. 2, 2016. Jack and Shirley OConnor, both 90, live in the house they bought in 1959 in Freeport, Ill. OConnor says he and his siblings have focused on keeping their parents healthy during the coronavirus pandemic, which has kept the couple home, but hasnt stopped the prayerful life they lead. (AP Photo/John OConnor)
In this April 16, 2020, photo, John OConnor, a reporter for The Associated Press in Springfield, Ill., holds a photo of his parents, Jack and Shirley OConnor, and him at their 60th wedding anniversary celebration on Jan. 2, 2016. Jack and Shirley OConnor, both 90, live in the house they bought in 1959 in Freeport, Ill. OConnor says he and his siblings have focused on keeping their parents healthy during the coronavirus pandemic, which has kept the couple home, but hasnt stopped the prayerful life they lead. (AP Photo/John OConnor)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – We call them “Madad,” my siblings and I: So inseparable, not to say indistinct, have my parents become during 66 years of marriage. When they call it's a twofer, dueling voices on separate extensions cheerfully greeting the new arrival on the line.

But they don't call often. Depression babies, I suspect they have never completely let go of the long-distance toll charge. So when I recently picked up a buzzing phone to see “Jack & Shirley O'Connor,” my stomach dropped. As I explained in a text to my sisters and brother:

“Disconcerting: Unexpected call from Madad.”

“Frightening: Unexpected call from Madad during pandemic.”

“Heart-stopping: Unexpected call from Madad during pandemic in which the first thing Dad says is, ‘John, I’ve got a problem.'”

Fortunately, the problem was my father's inability to link to the online Mass celebrated by my brother, the Rev. Dan O'Connor, pastor of a church in Alexandria, Louisiana. A few keystrokes later, I could hear through the phone my brother's familiar voice saying the opening prayer. Crisis averted.

Surrounded by a world of true suffering, life-risking heroism by men and women who don't think twice, and the most uncertain future many of us have ever faced, I am so fortunate. I have remained healthy. I have retained a paycheck, unlike an unfathomable number of others. I have friends on the phone and two goofy dogs at my feet.

My primary focus has been my parents, Jack and Shirley, in Freeport, Illinois, 115 miles (185 kilometers) northwest of Chicago. Both turned 90 late last year, my father a week after Ma. He has never tired of gossiping about the chance that Shirley would marry a younger man.