Couple married 61 years die a day apart from coronavirus, daughter urges caution

"We are just your every day ordinary family going through the toughest time of our lives losing both our parents....don't let it be you," one of their daughter's wrote in a Facebook post.

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By Janelle Griffith

Kathleen MacDowell can hardly believe how much her life has been altered in the past few weeks.

On March 10, MacDowell and her sisters Patty, Connie and Meg were wrapping their annual "sisters weekend" in the city of Marathon in the Florida Keys.

Their parents, Eleanor and Peter Baker, were traveling to a New Jersey State Police reunion that same day in Melbourne, Florida, a couple hours from their winter home in Webster.

"Nothing out of the ordinary....right??" MacDowell wrote in a Facebook post Friday. "Wrong...that week changed our entire lives."

Eleanor and Peter Baker, who were married for almost 62 years, died of COVID-19 a day apart, about three weeks after the reunion.

Peter and Eleanor Baker.Family photo

MacDowell said that before their trip, she and her sisters told their parents to be conscious about washing their hands.

"There was no significant alarm in our minds at that point regarding them going to the reunion," MacDowell told NBC News.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had not yet issued a statewide stay-at-home order.

Her mother made sure to pack hand sanitizer, MacDowell said, and her parents assured her the event would be small.

Eleanor and Peter Baker had no way of knowing that they would come into contact with a friend who had COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. That friend was not showing any symptoms. MacDowell said about 40 people attended the reunion and five others in addition to her parents contracted the virus but have recovered.

On March 23, Eleanor became ill and drove herself to a hospital in Leesburg, Florida, where she was immediately admitted, MacDowell said.

A day later, after they could not reach their father, her sister Patty, who lives in Jacksonville, drove three hours to find him gravely ill.

"He was extremely weak and was unable to get out of bed," MacDowell said. "But not in obvious respiratory distress."

Peter Baker was taken by ambulance to the same Leesburg hospital and admitted. Patty and her husband had to be quarantined for two weeks because of contact with her father. MacDowell drove from her home in Philadelphia and picked up her sister Meg who lives in Atlanta and drove to Jacksonville so they could see their parents and buy groceries for their sister in quarantine.

About a week later, Eleanor Baker, 84, died. Peter, 85, died the following day, April 3.

"We are heartbroken," MacDowell wrote in her Facebook post.

She said Friday was the first day she was able to hold her parents in some time — but in a box. MacDowell said she drove with a sibling to pick up their parents' ashes in Leesburg.

She was disclosing this on Facebook because she said she was seeing posts from people who still think the coronavirus is "no big deal, that they will not get sick, that it won't happen to them."

"Maybe not, but you might give it to someone else, or someone may give it to your Mom and/or Dad," she wrote. "You will not be able to go in the hospital to comfort them, to tell them how much you love them, to be strong, to keep fighting ... it is excruciating!"

The post was shared almost 3,000 times as of Monday afternoon and garnered more than 950 comments.

If it is you that gets sick, she continued, "no one will be allowed to be with you either, not any of your family or friends."

"Imagine not being able to breathe and being scared and being alone," MacDowell wrote, adding that "wonderful nurses and doctors" could become your lifeline to your loved ones.

"Thank God for them," she wrote.

One of Eleanor's favorite songs was "Ave Maria," so MacDowell had her daughter Melissa record a video of her singing the song and sent it to Eleanor's nurses.

"Two of the nurses went into my mom's room and recorded our mom watching the video and sent it to us," MacDowell said. "They were so kind to her, comforting her. It really is beautifully sad."

Her father was on a ventilator in intensive care for much of his stay. MacDowell said the hospital arranged an end-of-life visit wherein Patty and their brother, James, "suited up" so they could be with their parents before they died.

"They brought Mom up to be with dad in the ICU," she said. "Mom was able to hold Dad's hand."

Patty and James were able to video chat with their siblings on that visit. When Peter was removed from the ventilator, all five of his children were able to be with him.

"As heartbreaking as it was, at least all of us were able to tell our dad how much we loved him, that he did a great job raising all of us and we would always make him proud," MacDowell said.

In her Facebook post, she urged people to continue to be vigilant about wearing masks, social distancing and washing their hands.

And she concluded her post by writing that she hoped no one has to ever go through what she and her family has.

"We are just your every day ordinary family going through the toughest time of our lives losing both our parents .... don't let it be you," she wrote. "Be safe everyone."

Peter Baker served in the Navy and retired as a captain from the New Jersey State Police after a 32-year career. Eleanor "had a strong faith," maintaining a lifelong devotion and service to the Catholic church, her family said.

Peter, who was affectionately known as "Dad," "Grandpa" and "Poppy," was famous for his blueberry pancakes.

"He could fix just about anything and was always willing to lend a hand to anyone who needed help," his family said. "Eleanor loved gardening and flowers, was a legendary hostess and homemaker and had a smile that lit up a room."

The couple were longtime residents of Mount Olive Township in New Jersey. They moved to Wallenpaupack Lake Estates, a private community in Pennsylvania, upon retirement, and traveled extensively in their motorhome.

"They loved each other dearly, raised a beautiful family and made friends with everyone they met," their children said.

They are survived by their five children along with their spouses, 13 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.