A Texas couple married for 30 years who were hospitalized with Covid-19 were holding hands as they both died on Sunday, their family says.
Paul Blackwell, 61, and Rosemary Blackwell, 65 — longtime educators of Grand Prairie Independent School District — died just minutes apart at Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, two of their sons told NBC News.
The couple contracted the virus nearly a week before Thanksgiving. “It really took a toll on them pretty quickly,” son Shawn Blackwell said of his parents after they began exhibiting symptoms.
He said his mother was having shortness of breath at night and wasn’t sleeping. His father laid on the couch for four days. Their deteriorating conditions forced them to miss Thanksgiving with their children for the first time.
“There’s not been one Thanksgiving we’ve never spent together,” son Brandon Blackwell said.
The Friday after the holiday the couple was admitted to the hospital, where they’d spend the next few weeks fighting for their lives.
“It was hard to have them in the hospital,” Shawn Blackwell said.
The brothers weren’t able to physically see their parents and were only able to video chat with them. Their father broke down on one of those video calls, saying he didn't think he was going to make it.
“Their spirits were not too high during their hospital stay," Brandon Blackwell said. "But just us being there, I know, gave them some type of comfort. I was just glad they were able to see our faces.”
It was shortly after video calls with their children that the Blackwells were transferred to the intensive care unit.
“My little brother Shawn got to speak with my mom right before she got intubated and I was able to speak with my dad right before he got intubated, so it was crazy how that worked out,” Brandon Blackwell said.
The next time the sons would see their parents would be on their deathbeds.
“My dad wasn’t going to make it too much longer and my mom was right behind him,” Shawn Blackwell said. After consulting the doctors, the family made the difficult decision discontinue their life support.
Paul and Rosemary Blackwell died holding each other's hands — and the hands of Shawn and Brandon Blackwell, finally able to see their parents in person.
“It was definitely the hardest decision we ever had to deal with in our entire lives, but knowing that they’re together and the amazing parents that they were, we gave them a beautiful send off," Shawn Blackwell said. "We wish it hadn’t happened to our parents, but it does make us feel a little better that they’re both together."
The couple spent their careers as dedicated educators. Paul Blackwell was a P.E. teacher, mentor and coach at Fannin Middle School for five years. Prior to that, he taught at the Young Men’s Leadership Academy at Kennedy Middle School. Rosemary Blackwell was a second grade teacher at Travis World Language Academy and was the school's longest-tenured educator.
“Rosemary and Paul will be greatly missed by many. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their family, friends, co-workers, and students both current and former,” Grand Prairie Independent School District said in a statement to NBC News.
“They absolutely loved their jobs,” Brandon Blackwell said. “I tried to get my mother to retire years ago and she just said, ‘No, I love what I do.’ She drove 45 minutes for 20 years to work at 6:30 in the morning every day.”
The family said Rosemary Blackwell was finally due to retire this year, along with her husband, to enjoy their grandchildren — all 20 of them.
“Them being in their sixties," Shawn Blackwell said, “they still had many years ahead of them.”
The family isn’t sure how the couple contracted the virus. “They were fearful of the virus and took every precaution,” Brandon Blackwell said.
“You see your parents as superheroes and as the ones that are always there for you, and there’s nothing that’s ever supposed to happen them that's bad, and we got a real big dose of reality,” Shawn Blackwell said.
The sons say they take comfort that they could be with their parents in their final moments — and that their parents could with one another until the end.
“It did give us some sense of closure that they both went together because, honestly, it would’ve been weird to have one without the other,” Shawn Blackwell said.
An online fundraiser has been set up to help with funeral expenses for the Blackwells.