'I'm sad to see them both gone': Couple married 60 years dies from COVID-19 hours apart

Last updated: 05-27-2020

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'I'm sad to see them both gone': Couple married 60 years dies from COVID-19 hours apart

On September 5, 1959, newlyweds Fred and Judy Whitesel walked out of a Lutheran church in Millard, smiling ear to ear. They grew old together, even when they went to Life Care Center of Elkhorn in 2017.

“My father was 83 and my mother was 81,” said Steven Whitesel, Fred and Judy’s son.
Steven said his parents were doing well at the facility, although Judy had dementia and his father was immobile. When COVID-19 cases surged at the facility, he began to worry.

“I remember telling my wife as she went to bed that I had a very bad feeling,” Steven Whitesel said.

He hadn't seen his parents in months, since Life Care restricted visitors, just like other care centers. Text messages from the facility alerted him to more and more residents getting the virus.

"The fact that I had both my parents there was just scaring me to death at that point,” Steven Whitesel said.

Then, a phone call.

“That next morning my wife called me at work and told me my mom had been rushed to the emergency room for developing COVID symptoms,” he said.

Steven visited his mom at the hospital Saturday. It would be the last time he'd see her.

"When they called us Monday morning to let us know she had passed away, of course it was devastating,” he said.

Steven’s dad was still at Life Care Center. He called to ask them to tell Fred that his wife had died. Then he got a call he did not expect.

“I was getting a call maybe half an hour later saying he (his father) was being rushed to the Methodist Women’s Hospital emergency room,” Steven said.

“Then 20 or so minutes later I get a call from a doctor that he is on a ventilator, unresponsive and given a 10% chance of surviving.”

Just 12 hours after losing his mom, Steven lost his dad.

“I think it’s a mental connection they have and I’m sure my father was saying, ‘You’re not going to leave me behind, I’m going too,’" Steven said.

Steven said he prays for the other residents at Life Care Center every night and for the staff.

“My hope is that they’re doing everything to the standard protocol what they should be,” he said.

Even in his grief, Steven knows the power of love is stronger than loss.

"I’m sad to see them both gone, but I’m happy to know they’re rejoicing in the Lord in Heaven,” he said.

The Whitesel’s plan to have a graveside service for Fred and Judy Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m. at the Mt. Auburn Cemetery near 186th and Q Street in Omaha.

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