Holding hands, couple married 70 years dies from COVID-19 minutes apart

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WBNS) - An Ohio couple who had just celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary died from COVID-19 within minutes of each other. Their family hopes their deaths serve as a warning to others.

Sisters Debbie Howell, Vicki Harper and Kelly Meek gathered on a Zoom call Tuesday to remember their parents, Dick and Shirley Meek, who died from the coronavirus. It was also Dick’s birthday, and he would have turned 90. Shirley was 87.

Dick and Shirley Meek, ages 89 and 87, died from COVID-19 within minutes of each other. Their deaths came less than a month after their 70th wedding anniversary.
Dick and Shirley Meek, ages 89 and 87, died from COVID-19 within minutes of each other. Their deaths came less than a month after their 70th wedding anniversary. (Source: Meek Family, WBNS via CNN)

The couple celebrated 70 years of marriage on Dec. 22. That’s when their daughters say the guard, even if ever so briefly, was dropped.

“They said to all us kids, ‘We think we’re getting colds,’” said Kelly Meek.

Then, on Jan. 8, Dick and Shirley Meek, both positive for COVID-19, were admitted to Riverside Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. They were placed in separate rooms, one floor apart.

The time to say goodbye came quickly. The Meeks’ children asked if their parents could be together when the time came, and staff found a room big enough for two beds and their equipment.

“We asked for them to be together, and they said, ‘Absolutely,’” Kelly Meek said.

John Denver’s “When the River Meets the Sea,” the song Dick Meek wanted to be played after he was gone, played softly in the room Saturday while he and his wife were both leaving.

“Mom passed first,” Howell said. “They were holding hands. The nurse put Mom’s head on my dad’s shoulder, and she said to Dad, ‘Dick, it’s OK to let go now. Shirley’s waiting for you.’ He passed within minutes.”

The couple had 70 years together – decades of love with five children, 13 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren.

“My parents got the blessing of walking together through the gates of heaven into eternity with never having to face ‘until death do us part.’ How many people can say that?” Howell said. “It’s beautiful.”

The sisters wanted to share their parents’ story to encourage others to take COVID-19 seriously and give the virus respect.

“Our hearts are shattered, but we are at peace knowing that they are together in heaven for eternity,” Howell said.

The Meeks were on a waiting list to get the COVID-19 vaccine near their home in Ohio. They died three days before their appointment.

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