A year of COVID: She saw her father live, before she watched him die

  • Kara Pioli holds a photo of her father, William Pioli, in the guest room of her Penacook home on Friday. Her father died of COVID last year. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 3/6/2021 3:42:43 PM

William Pioli had a flair for making a point.

Take his stance on illegal drug use, for example. Thirty years ago, Pioli went beyond merely telling his three children, gathered around the dinner table, that using drugs was stupid.

Instead, he showed Kara Pioli and her two brothers the absurdity of using, comparing it to what he did next: a face plant into his slice of pizza.

“He smashed it with his face,” Pioli’s daughter, Kara Pioli of Penacook, said by phone. “He should have been a standup comedian. The funniest person I’ve ever met.”

The laughter is muted these days, since William died in June at a Nashua hospital. He had serious pre-existing conditions – a heart attack and stroke – before COVID was declared his cause of death.

He was just 61, one of nearly 1,200 COVID-related deaths in New Hampshire since quarantining went into effect one year ago. Some died more than a month after their diagnosis, giving families a sliver of hope before the cruel hand of COVID became too strong. William died two weeks after he was diagnosed.

Many families barely had a chance to say goodbye as their loved ones – often alone – gasped for breath. “Death, whether it’s sudden or slow, always feels sudden,” Kara said. “I wish I would have had more time, and other than COVID, that’s what would have happened. I wanted him to see his first grandchild. He was robbed of that. We were robbed of that.”

She’s an executive administrator at a mental health counseling center. She’s married to Eric Dyke, a Bow native who’s a regional manager at Verizon.

Kara’s parents divorced when she was 2, leaving her with weekend memories of her father during her school years.

They’d take walks, watch movies and watch TV. William loved the X-Files.

“He would drop us off on Sundays,” Kara said, “and that was the hardest part.”

Her story is familiar, one that began with quarantining last March, when the one-year anniversary of a pandemic hardly seemed like it could become reality.

In this case, William Pioli was alone in the hospital for two weeks, until his death. Kara, however, was able to visit him once the end was imminent.

Pioli died while Kara held his hand.

“Hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “He died quickly. I think he waited for me.”

He died following what his daughter said was a rich life. Known for his walrus-like mustache, Pioli was an electrician and an executive at a business that manufactured synthesizers. He lived in Hawaii and Utah, until his health faded.

He moved to Milford and roomed with an old friend to be near family.

He loved tinkering with clocks – never digital – and his home was enveloped by the ticking and tocking of pendulums.

“He loved watches and clocks, mechanical clocks, old pocket watches,” Kara said. “He would fix them and collect them.”

William loved music. You noticed this upon seeing a wall at his home, once totally covered by shelves and shelves of vinyl albums.

His taste was eclectic.

William loved classic rock, Led Zepellin and Pink Floyd. He loved the folk sounds and social consciousness of the lyrics offered by Joni Mitchell. He liked the alternative metal of the Deftones, and the operatic soprano supplied by Sarah Brightman.

“Always passionate about music,” Kara noted.

She said he was charitable. His empathy was steady like a pendulum. That rubbed off on his kids.

“Unfailingly generous,” Kara said. “He stopped at a grocery store and showed me a 10-dollar bill and said, ‘We can live without this, but someone else cannot,’ and that is why we had to give it away.”

His COVID diagnosis occurred shortly after he had fallen at a care facility and broken his hip. He was alive and well at that time, and Kara had been looking for an assisted living facility that would have given him his own room, unlike the one he had in the past.

COVID symptoms soon emerged, mostly labored breathing. Following his hip injury Pioli never left the hospital. He was alone the entire time.

Until that final day.

Kara and Eric arrived at the hospital on June 6, shortly past midnight. They stayed for about 90 minutes. Until the end came.

Kara held her father’s hand tightly. She said his labored breathing, coming in short bursts, desperate for air, calmed when she got to the room.

He never said a word, but his eyes were open, looking at Kara.

“He knew I was in the room,” Kara said. “His breathing changed. You could tell he was happy I was there. His eyes were open.

“He was looking at me.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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