She Was More Than a Statistic in a Pandemic: ‘We Didn’t Want Her to Get Lost’

This was dubious — the land’s value had dwindled, over the years, to a few thousand dollars, and the government had forced the family to surrender the property when they immigrated to the United States. But Ms. Dionisio, as a tribute to her deceased father, was intent on collecting compensation for the plot from the Department of Agrarian Reform. She and her sister had chipped away at this task for years, a wrestling match with provincial land bureaucrats who demanded a long list of notarized documents. This spring’s trip was the one in which Ms. Dionisio would collect the check.

“She said, ‘I have to finish this,’” Ms. Quijano said. “She wanted to settle it once and for all.”

News about the virus was already beginning to circulate, and an active volcano had spewed ash particles into the air. People tried to talk Ms. Dionisio, who had survived two bouts of cancer and suffered from diabetes, out of traveling. Her husband was against making the trip, and so was their daughter and her sister. Ms. Jenkins tried to dissuade her, as well, but understood it was useless.

“It goes back to her never wanting to give up,” Ms. Jenkins said. Ms. Dionisio’s daughter, Rowena Dionisio-Connelly, agreed: As a small girl, Ms. Dionisio would run after a neighbor who teased her brother, who was gay. “She would pull out a wooden spoon and chase the neighbor with it all the way to his doorstep,” she said.

So the couple set off for a month of travel, sending back dispatches from their journey. Increasingly, they were in the shadow of the virus.

“We’ve been wearing our masks to avoid the coronavirus,” Mr. Dionisio wrote in a text message to Ms. Jenkins, along with a photo of a carved bench nestled in tropical greenery. As the trip went on, he wrote, more and more of the tourist sights were being closed.

In early March, Ms. Dionisio called home to announce that she had achieved her goal: Zipped inside her suitcase was a check from the Filipino government, compensating the family for the loss of the coconut plantation, said her sister, Ms. Quijano. She turned toward home, a trip that would take the couple through Thailand and, briefly, South Korea.


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