All Things Considered

Losing a dad to coronavirus

A New Hope man remembers his father who died from COVID-19

Leonard Novak with family
Leonard Novak with his family. COVID-19 has claimed the lives of dozens of Minnesotans. Leonard's son Mark Novak remembers his father, who died from the virus in a New Hope nursing home.
Courtesy of Mark Novak

Like many others who’ve lost family members to the coronavirus, Mark Novak didn’t get to spend the last moments of his father’s life by his side.

“It's disheartening,” he said. “We never wanted him to pass away by himself. I don't think anybody does.”

His father, Leonard Novak, died on the evening of April 5 from COVID-19 at the age of 91. He contracted the virus at the New Hope nursing home where he lived.

Mark Novak said he was able to see him earlier that day. Donning a gown, gloves and masks, he and his siblings went into Leonard’s room, two by two for a few hours at a time.

“The poor man was just really suffering, it was horrible to watch him try to get air,” he said. “I don't know if I could handle that much labor for any length of time, and I'm really proud of my dad.”

Leonard Novak pictured with his son and grandkids
Leonard Novak is pictured with his family. He lost his battle with the coronavirus on April 5.
Courtesy of Mark Novak

Mark Novak said he couldn’t touch his dad, and wasn’t sure if he even knew his children were present. But he said he was just happy to be able to see the man he remembers as an extrovert who prided himself on coordinating activities at his nursing home.

“I think what really hurt more than anything else is that he was a very active guy,” he said. “He was the bingo man at the nursing home and he took that job very seriously.”

Mark Novak also remembered how his dad instilled many lessons in him and his siblings.

Leonard Novak and on his 90th birthday
Leonard Novak pictured at a New Hope nursing home where he lived.
Courtesy of Mark Novak

“My dad was an extremely friendly, warm guy, and he didn't care about religion or color,” he said.

“He taught me if you bleed and you breathe, you deserve respect and that really was my dad all the way.”

He said that’s how he wants others to remember his dad, too. The family hopes to plan a memorial once large groups are able to gather again.

Click the audio player above to hear Mark Novak share his memories with MPR News host Tom Crann on All Things Considered.