Losing both parents to COVID is unimaginable heartbreak

Losing a parent to COVID is a heartbreak, but losing both parents, unimaginable.

But it happened to a Bay Area family, and their four grown children are healing, one day at a time.

"We're trying to get back to some normalcy," said DeLon Adams, as sister Eboni Hunter chimed in, "create a new normal for us."Gwen and Keith Robinson of Vallejo died 11 days apart in July 2020.

"It's one minute they're here, one minute they're gone," said Adams.

Hunter drove her father, gasping for air, to Kaiser Vallejo one morning.

The next day, her mother followed, with nausea and a fever.

Gwen, 62, suffered from asthma and a blood condition and her condition deteriorated rapidly.

She managed to say goodbyes to her loved ones via Facetime from the hospital.

During one of her last conversations with her husband, Gwen coded and had to be resuscitated.

"He called me in a panic because she stopped talking and machines were going off and people were running and he needed to know if she was okay," recounted Hunter.

After Gwen died, and before Keith was intubated, Hunter promised him she would lay her to rest, never expecting to have to bury them both.

"The doctors said my dad was really strong, and there was no doubt in my mind he would come home," she recalled. "He had some great days in the ICU," said Hunter, "so it doesn't make sense, maybe he died from a broken heart or the fight went out of him."

Added Adams, "I think that my dad, his soul wanted to be with hers."

Gwen, 62, worked at the California Veterans Home in Yountville for 12 years.

She organized volunteers and donations and was beloved by residents and staff.

A commemorative bench and plaque are planned in her honor.

Keith, 61, worked for the U.S. Postal Service for more than 20 years, driving trucks from Oakland's distribution center.

They were an active, social couple and since their deaths, their children have heard from many people who miss them.

"Their messages would make me cry but also bring a smile to my face knowing how many people they touched and affected," said Adams.

For the family, Christmas was definitely the hardest time, with so many memories of past gatherings, and their parents always in the center.

"It was so fun and vibrant when we were all together, it was an atmosphere of, okay it's going down, let's party," smiled Adams.

Hunter and her mother had an annual tradition, watching holiday movies.

"And I could not get through one Christmas movie this year, not one," said Hunter, "because every time I just wanted to turn and talk to her or call her and say mom, you would really love this one."

Hunter has also missed her father's guidance, as she moved into her own apartment after their deaths.

"I couldn't be in that house by myself, I couldn't, there were too many memories," she admits.

But she has mementos and photos, and her dad's toolbag, which reminds her of some special times.

"If he was working on a project for me, I would just hand him a tool and then we would just talk, and that's what I really miss about my dad, he was my hero."

After her exposure, Hunter became infected herself, and while her case was relatively mild, she still suffers health effects.

"I'm what they call a long-hauler," she explained, describing ongoing symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, hair loss, fatigue, insomnia, and stuffy nose.

"It took me months to be able to smell things," said Hunter, admitting that every new twinge makes her worry."You might have common symptoms but you're super-paranoid, you get nervous because you're still dealing with it."

Hunter has coped the past 8 months by turning to her faith, therapy, and family.

Adams agrees their parents were loving example has helped all four siblings support each other.

"We up-lift each other, when one of us is down, we can just reach out to each other."

Some of his fondest memories are phone calls from his mom.

"Sonny boy, I'm having a problem with my iPad what do I do?" Adams chuckled, also remembering Gwen's fondness for spontaneous visits with her grandchildren. "My mom would say, 'I've got some snacks for the boys, let me come by, what are you guys doing?"

And it was always a blast to see them, they were always smiling.

"The Robinson children say it will take a lifetime to learn to live with their loss, even as vaccines take hold and the pandemic fades for most people."

Some people don't care, don't wear masks, don't think it's real and that hurts," said Hunter. "They're not touched by this because it didn't hit close to home for them, but this is what we're left with."

The siblings are comforted by the fact that their parents, together for 35 years, are buried side by side in Vallejo.

"He actually always said he wanted to go before her because he didn't want to live in a world without her," said Hunter.