Beatles fan's lost letter turns to story of pandemic hope
Like so many victims of Covid-19, Brazilian Karlo Schneider never got to say goodbye to his family. Unlike most, he managed to get them a message a year after he died.
Schneider's family, who describe him as a die-hard romantic with an infectious love of life, kissed him farewell when the Brazilian hotel manager left for work one morning in February 2021, and never held him again.
Schneider came down with coronavirus symptoms that day, and stayed at the hotel to avoid infecting his family. Their only contact after that was in calls from his sick bed and one socially distanced look -- the badly ill father in his car on his way to the hospital, his wife and three kids waving from the house.
But Schneider, who died at 40 that March, delivered his loved ones a letter a year later, with a little help from his friends, the Beatles and a viral video.
The story starts at a dinner party in 2006, when Schneider, then expecting his first child, got the idea for he and his friends to write letters to his unborn daughter to open on her 15th birthday.
A passionate Beatles fan with hundreds of rare records, he stashed the letters inside his most precious possession: his vinyl collection.
"He loved that kind of thing," says his wife, Alcione, who was six months pregnant at the time.
"He was always asking things like, 'If you could leave a message in a bottle for someone in the future, what would you say?'"
He was the kind of dad who created elaborate treasure hunts for his kids, the kind of friend who showed up at dawn on your birthday to surprise you with a present, she says.
Such escapades were so common at the Schneiders' home in the northeastern city of Natal that they soon forgot all about the letters, she says.
- 'Find those letters' -
Fast forward 14 years, and the pandemic was wreaking worldwide havoc. Like many, Schneider lost his job.
Struggling financially, he decided to sell most of his record collection.
Things looked to be getting better in early 2021, when he got a job at another hotel in Mossoro, 280 kilometers (175 miles) away.
But he soon caught Covid-19. It was the start of a brutal second wave that saw more than 3,000 people a day dying in Brazil.
It happened very fast, says Alcione, 41. The moving truck arrived in Mossoro with their things on February 12. A week later, Schneider got sick. On March 2, he was intubated. By March 11, he was gone.
It was only later, sifting memories in her mind, that she remembered those long-ago letters.
The impact hit slowly, she says. Barbara, their first-born, would be turning 15 in March, a week before the first anniversary of her dad's death.
"Oh my God. I have to find those letters," she remembers thinking.
- Unsaid goodbye -
After failing to locate them in Schneider's remaining albums, she realized what had happened.
With her blessing, Schneider's friends posted a video on Beatle-maniac discussion forums asking for whoever bought the albums to return the letters.
The video soon went viral, inspiring a flurry of stories in the Brazilian media.
Last September, a man called Alcione saying he had bought some vintage records around that time. He hadn't opened them yet, he said. He had himself lost his son to Covid-19, and was struggling with depression.
But he promised he would look when he could.
In December, the man called again, asking her to meet him in Natal. There, he gave her Schneider's copy of John Lennon's "Imagine," with three letters inside.
Barbara opened the one from Schneider on her birthday last month, with Alcione at her side.
"He wrote that he was so in love with my mom. He talked about the Beatles. He asked if Paul McCartney was still alive," Barbara says, between laughter and tears.
At the end of the letter, Schneider's blue pen ran out of ink.
The message fades, then ends abruptly -- reminding his family of the way he died, his lungs weakening to nothing.
"It was surreal," says Alcione.
But "it was so, so good to get that letter," says Barbara, a poised, precocious high-schooler.
"We never got to say goodbye. This gave me a chance to see him again."