‘They left this earth … together’: Mass held one year after couple died of COVID

April 21, 2021 Jaime DeJesus
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Dyker Heights residents Frank and Eleanor Emma died of COVID-19 a week apart last April. Eleanor was 87, Frank was 90. Neither knew the other had died.

Pandemic protocols forbade a wake or funeral and the burial service was only five minutes long. Mourners stayed in their cars until they were called to place a rose at the gravesite. The funeral director said a short prayer.

Karen Emma was unable to attend her parents’ burial. She had COVID too.

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“It was horrible that my parents couldn’t have a wake, funeral Mass or proper burial,” Karen said. “I never thought I wouldn’t be there for any of it.”

Frank began to show symptoms on March 25 – Eleanor’s 87th birthday. Eleanor had been coughing for a few days by then. 

“I came downstairs to tell my dad that we would be having a cake for my mom later that evening,” Karen said. “Dad told me he had a sore throat and chills. The next seven days, they both got worse – fevers, chills, coughing, body aches, earaches, etc. I suspected it might be COVID, but my dad said he wasn’t having problems breathing so I wasn’t completely sure.” 

Frank was taken to Maimonides Medical Center April 1.

“The doctor called and told me my dad’s lungs were severely damaged and he wasn’t going to make it,” Karen said. “My mom had labored breathing. At that moment, I knew I was going to lose both my parents. The pain was unbearable. I completely broke down.”

A few hours later, Eleanor’s aide screamed to Karen that her mother was unresponsive.  

“I ran in, felt one strong pulse in her neck and then she passed away in front of me,” Karen said. “I collapsed on the floor.”

Karen spoke to her father via Facetime the next day.

“I told him I loved him, that I couldn’t visit him because of COVID, but he was being well taken care of,” she said.

On April 4, Karen developed a high fever. She went to Maimonides for a chest X-ray and visited her father.

“I told him that I hoped that he would be able to fight this, but if he can’t, he can go home to God, that my mom was there waiting for him,” she said. “However, he was not responsive.”

Frank died April 8. He and Eleanor were buried together.

On April 10, 2021, a memorial Mass for the couple was celebrated at St. Athanasius Church on Bay Parkway. Karen hopes the service will give her and her family some closure.

“They were beautiful, loving people,” she said. “On their gravestone, it is written ‘As they lived their lives, they left this earth … together.’ My parents were inseparable in life and in death.”

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