Couple married for 53 years dies of COVID-19 an hour aside

A long-married couple from Texas were both diagnosed with COVID-19 last month, and as they grew sicker they were hospitalized separately. However, thanks to a thoughtful nurse, Betty and Curtis Tarpley were able to be together and hold each others’ hands in their final moments. The couple, who died less than an hour apart, had been married for 53 years, their son Tim Tarpley told CBS News. 

Tarpley told CBS News about his parents’ love story. “They ran in the same circle in school in Illinois but didn’t date, but they ran into each other years later in California. Then they went back to Illinois and got married,” he said. 

Betty and Curtis Tarpley had two children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Their son said they went on adventures together and that his parents liked to travel. His mom even ran a travel club for other seniors. 

“They’ve been to Austria, Ireland, Africa, it’s just ridiculous the places they’ve gone,” he said. 

Betty and Curtis Tarpley had two children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. They died of COVID-19 less than an hour apart. / Credit: Tim Tarpley

Tarpley said he’s not sure how either of his parents got coronavirus, which has been surging across the state. His 79-year-old father had stayed inside the house this whole year and his 80-year-old mother always wore a mask when she went out. But when she started feeling ill and became incoherent, Tarpley decided it was time to take his mom to the hospital.

After being admitted to Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth on June 9, Betty tested positive for coronavirus. Just three days later, Tarpley’s father felt sick and he took him to the same hospital. He said he was a bit wary about bringing his dad to the hospital during a pandemic.

“I explained to him, this is not going to be somebody waiting on you hand and foot,” Tarpley said. “These people are stressed out, and their only goal is to keep you alive. So you may be in your room for hours with no one checking on you.”

Due to coronavirus restrictions, he couldn’t even go inside with his dad. “It’s just one of the saddest thing in the world when you drop your parents off at the curb and they wheel themselves through the door and that’s it,” he said. 

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Family members weren’t allowed in to visit Betty and Curtis for a while — and they couldn’t see one other, either. 

After more than a week in the hospital, Tarpley said his mom knew the end was near. “She said, ‘This is it. I’m ready to go and I know where I’m going, everything’s OK.’ She was at peace with it,” he said. The hospital staff allowed family members to see Betty, wearing full protective equipment. 

“When we were able to come in there and see her, she didn’t remember seeing us at all. She was out of it,” Tarpley said. “But then they allowed my dad to visit her also. He came in his wheelchair, and he had to bring his whole crew, his whole staff, with him.” 

Tim Tarpley said it was an ICU nurse named Blake who thought to bring his parents together before they died. The couple had been married for 53 years. / Credit: Tim Tarpley

Tarpley said while his mom remembered her husband’s presence, she didn’t remember other family members visiting. “The hospital kind of just thought that was the worst story ever,” he said. So they allowed the family to visit a second time.

The hospital staff was going to allow the family to also see Curtis that day, but “he was slowly slipping, and couldn’t make the trip down the hall,” Tarpley said. “We were never able to see him.”

Tarpley said it was a nurse in the ICU who thought to move Betty out of her own room and into Curtis’ before they died. “His name is Blake, and that’s all we know. He was the one that arranged all of this,” he said. 

On June 18, the two lay in separate beds next to each other, holding hands. “She passed at 11:05 a.m. and he passed at 11:53 a.m.,” Tarpley said. “It was just kind of a good ending.” 

“It just makes you cry a little bit, but it’s so nice that they both went at the same time,” their son said. “There’s not one mourning over the other one. … They were both ready to go.” 

Tarpley said he hopes his family’s story reminds others to be thankful for their loved ones. “We all have parents,” he said. “We always think there’s going to be tomorrow and everything will be OK, but that’s just not the case. We really don’t know.” 

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