BURBANK, Calif. – “This is a picture of our 40th anniversary, we went on a cruise for our 40th He was a good-looking guy, he was a handsome guy,” says 71-year-old Valencia resident, Willa Robinson looking at the book she made for her husband, Vernon, after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s
“I wrote him a book it’s called 52 Ways I love My Man and we put plenty of pictures in the book and those pictures were to help him remember who we are,” she turns to another page “this is he and his dad and this is our two boys, at the bottom.”
They met in their home town of Kansas City, Kansas, fell in love and married in 1965.
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“We just had a bond from the very beginning, he was my first and only love,” says Willa.
They spent 53 of their 55 years of marriage in Southern California, where they raised two adult sons. They now have four grandchildren, one great grandson. But life, jobs, love has pulled their sons to different states and so after Vernon was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2017, Willa, could no longer take care of him by herself and had to put him in the Alameda Care Center in Burbank.
“Even at the nursing home we still had time together, we just celebrated our 55-year anniversary. It was cut short,” said Willa.
Cut short by coronavirus. 81-year-old Vernon had congestive heart failure and COPD, he was considered high risk for COVID-19 due to his age and his pre-existing health conditions. African-Americans have higher rates of diabetes, lung and heart disease, like Vernon, and so they are dying at higher rates from COVID-19 than other races.
“I feel like I lost him twice, I lost him to Alzheimer’s and then now to this,” says Willa.
She last visited him on Friday March 13, the nursing home canceled visitors the next day, 10 days later he tested positive, they took him to the hospital where she waved to him from a window in the hall, he was intubated and asleep by then. Two days later he died.
“And he remembered me up until March 13, he knew my name, he knew, every time I would go in he would light up and he would say, you look so pretty, how are the kids doing. I said goodbye, and I said I love you, and he said I love you more, and that was the last words he said to me,” says Willa.
At least 17 people at the Alameda Care Center in Burbank have tested positive for COVID-19, two have died. We reached out to the nursing home for comment on this story, and have not heard back.
“I can’t even describe how I’m feeling, I can’t even describe it, I can’t even grieve because I’m so upset with the way he left here, he didn’t even have a chance, he couldn’t fight, he couldn’t fight, he didn’t have anything to fight with,” says Willa.
He was cremated, the usual mass, canceled due to distancing guidelines.
Willa is hoping both nursing facilities and SoCal residents learn from her experience so no more lives will be lost.
“So I would urge people please, please take precautions, please do the necessary things to protect yourself and protect others,” says Willa choking back tears.
And although her book 52 Ways I Love My Man was meant to help Vernon not forget her, now it will help Willa to never forget him.