Photo taken at the hospital of Dick and Shirley holding hands before they died. (Courtesy Debbie Howell)
Childhood sweethearts who were inseparable during their 70 years of marriage died of COVID-19 while holding hands in an Ohio hospital, their family told CNN.
Dick Meek, 89, and Shirley Meek, 87, passed away within minutes of each other on January 16 at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, the family said.
“They never had to go through ‘until death do us part,'” said their daughter Debbie Howell. “They never had to do that because they were together and we’re ever so grateful.”
The couple was scheduled for their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on January 19, her dad’s 90th birthday. “They were that close,” said daughter Vicci Harper.
The Coschcoton, Ohio, couple met in high school and were together ever since. “You read love at first sight and you think it’s not true,” said the family. “Well, it was love at first sight for my dad.” They celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on December 22.
Parents to five children, 13 grandchildren, and 28 great-grandchildren they lived a full life of passion, the family said. Their adventures ranged from traveling the world to skydiving to making appearances at special events for their grandchildren, even in old age. Most importantly, they always made time to be together, having a standing date scheduled for 3 p.m. on each day to toast to each other, according to their obituary.
School photos show Dick and Shirley. (Courtesy Debbie Howell)
“They weren’t your typical 88- and 90-year-old,” Debbie Howell told CNN. “They were both very, very healthy, very vibrant people with of all their faculties. They just went down so fast.”
The couple tested positive for COVID-19 on December 26 after experiencing symptoms they believed to be a cold. After several days of up-and-down symptoms, they went to an urgent care facility for a Covid test and their health went downhill from there, the family told CNN.
Dick was admitted to Coshocton Regional Medical Center on January 2 and Shirley followed two days later, said the family. Both experienced difficulty breathing.
As their condition declined, they needed to be transferred to a second hospital. At the time, there was a chance the two would be transferred to separate hospitals, but the staff helped to advocate that they would both be transferred to Riverside Methodist Hospital.
“From January 8 to the end it just kind of went up and down,” Howell said. “There were days that we were really optimistic that they were going to get through, but their lungs kept failing more and more each day.”
When the care team told the family their parents only had a few more days to live, they asked for their parents to be placed in the same room. “We didn’t want them separated because that was their biggest thing in life that they would be together,” said Howell.
“We wanted them to be holding hands. We wanted them to be together. We wanted their favorite music to be playing softly in the background,” she told CNN. And the hospital staff made it happen.
A nurse made a two-hour playlist of the couple’s favorite songs and played them as they held hands for the last time. Shirley was the first to pass, and then Dick.
“The nurse put my mom’s head on my dad’s shoulder. And she walked over and she rubbed my dad’s shoulder and said ‘Dick, you can go now. Shirley’s waiting for you,'” Howell said. “And within minutes, he was gone.”
The family said they feel lucky that their parents were able to pass hand in hand and thanked the hospital staff for helping them to honor their love story.
According to Dick and Shirley’s obituary, a celebration of their lives will take place this summer. “COVID took their lives from us, so we beg you all to be safe,” said the family.
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