Alice Stockton-Rossini and her 90-year-old mother, Jackie Stockton, survived COVID-19.
But the virus took the lives of some of their friends and a relative.
The outbreak in their community in Ship Bottom, N.J., can be traced back to Stockton’s 90th birthday party, held at her church on March 8 before much of the U.S. began practicing social distancing.
In a recent remote StoryCorps conversation, Stockton told her 62-year-old daughter that she didn’t realize she had contracted the virus until she landed in the hospital.
“One day I was at church and that’s all I remember, until I woke up in the hospital — and apparently, I’d been there awhile,” she said. Stockton was hospitalized from March 16 to March 22.
At least eight family members became infected.
“I lost my brother-in-law, and five members of our church are dead,” Stockton-Rossini said. “It’s just — it’s mind-blowing, it really is.”
The devastation from the coronavirus seems incomparable to other major events in Stockton’s life.
“I remember 9/11 as though it just happened, but then it was over,” she said. “This will never, ever be over. This is different — much more personal.”
The hardest part, she said, is losing her best friend, 76-year-old Sandy Medford, who died on March 20.
“I’ve known her since she was a young girl, and then suddenly she was gone. And nobody would tell me,” Stockton said.
Her daughter responded, “We couldn’t tell you right away.”
She held off telling her mom the news until her mom was out of the hospital and had regained some of her strength.
Stockton said she worries most about her loved ones.
“I always worry about my family. Always,” she said. “It takes a long time to say my prayers at night. I have so many kids, grandkids. Gotta pray for everybody.”
But she said one thing is getting her through this crisis: “Faith that things will get better. Faith that people will come together more instead of tearing each other apart.”
Stockton said her family has a history of weathering hardships.
“There’s always been something,” she said. “And we’ve come through it.”
She told her daughter that the grandmother of Stockton-Rossini’s father, who raised him, endured the deaths of eight of her 17 children. At least one of her kids died during the 1918 flu pandemic.
“She lived through the worst kind of hell — having to bury so many of your children,” she said. “But look how she came through it. She was an amazing woman and so was her husband. They just did the things they needed to do. And they survived.”
Her daughter added, “Put one foot in front of another. Take one day at a time. What did you always say, Mom? ‘One minute at a time.’ ”
Stockton agreed. “You gotta keep going. That’s for sure.”
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Kerrie Hillman and Michael Garofalo.
StoryCorps developed a new way to bring people together that makes it possible to record interviews remotely. Go to storycorpsconnect.org to try it out.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.