‘Bernie & Phyl’s’ Daughter Opens Up About the Guilt and Grief of Losing Her Dad to COVID-19

WCVB Channel 5 Boston

Bernie Rubin, the co-owner of the New England furniture chain, ‘Bernie & Phyl’s’, passed away due to COVID-19 last year.

However, only now did his daughter, Michelle Pepe, recently open up with details about his passing and the guilt she has surrounding it.

The last time Michelle saw her father was at her mother’s 80th birthday party in April 2020—and it was truly a great day.

“He was so happy. He had all of his grandchildren and his one great grandchild, and he was beaming,” Michelle said.

It was the after effects of the party that was the problem. Both Bernie and Michelle both contracted COVID-19.

“I got sick on the 20th. My fever broke on the 28th. I got the call from the aide that he coughed up a little blood. And I said, ‘How sick are you?’ He said, ‘I’m fine. I’m fine,’” Michelle explained.

Of course, Bernie wasn’t fine. At the beginning of the pandemic, there wasn’t much known about the virus, and he passed away 20 days later on April 13.

Michelle hates that her father was alone for his death.

“Alone, and he suffered. He suffered. He couldn’t even get a drink of water because they had to suit up,” she said.

Worse, Michelle carries the burden of guilt for believing that she passed the virus that would take his life to him, and blames herself for what happened. She prays every morning to help her with her grief.

Another thing that has helped her: support groups. And that’s why she created the “Yellow Heart Project.”

“If you see a yellow heart, that means that someone was lost to COVID. So, you know, a sticker on your car, whatever it is, I want people to know yellow hearts are COVID memorials. It’s more people than you think,” she said.

Bernie was born in Boston in December 1937. It was in 1983 where he co-founded the furniture retail chain, known for the jingle praising its “quality, comfort and price.” Fun fact: He cofounded the company with his wife Phyllis. They were married almost 60 years when he passed. He was survived by Phyllis and their three children, Larry, Rob, and Michelle, their spouses, and a total of 10 grandchildren and one great grandchild.

“He was kind, hard-working, fair and, above all, loved his family – which included his entire extended Bernie & Phyl’s family,” a statement from his family said last year.

To hear more from Michelle, check out the video below.