GLEN ALLEN, Va. — A Glen Allen, Virginia, family warned others to take COVID-19 seriously during the holidays after their parents died from the virus less than three weeks apart.
Keene and Jessie Mendenhall said their entire family contracted COVID-19 in September after they traveled to Alabama to attend their grandmother’s funeral.
"Hindsight is 20/20, but going there and traveling I think was a mistake," Keene Mendenhall said.
The siblings believe they were exposed to the virus at a gathering inside of a home following the funeral.
“We got a little too comfortable around people,” Keene explained. “All four us got symptoms that were telling of COVID-19.”
Their parents, Ed and Jane, were admitted to the hospital shortly after returning to Henrico.
They said their father was reluctant to go to the hospital, but ended up calling an ambulance.
“He looked at us and smiled and gave us a thumbs up and that’s the last memory I have of dad,” the siblings recalled. “At the time I didn’t know of course it was going to be the last time I saw him or that goofy smile.”
Ed Mendenhall, 63, died on October 8 at Bon Secours St. Mary's Hospital.
His 66-year-old wife Jane died 20 days later at Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center in Mechanicsville.
“They were hard workers. Caring people. Always helped somebody in a time of need,” the siblings described. “Mom and dad both always put in extra work to make sure we had what we needed.”
Ed taught music at Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Richmond, and the University of Virginia. He was last employed with Virginia ABC.
Jane served for more than 30 years with the Refugee and Immigration Services Department of Commonwealth Catholic Charities, helping settle families from Vietnam and Cambodia into the Greater Richmond area.
She then became a Developmental Disabilities Waiver Specialist for children on the autism spectrum.
“This is a tragic situation. It’s not just us. It’s the other 230,000-plus families that are dealing with the loss of a loved one,” Jessie said. “As much as you want to people with your family, as much as you want to hug and comfort them, you need to realize you got to put some boundaries between them now.”
Leading health experts and state leaders have warned against gathering with your family this winter.
"You should take precautions around anyone who does not live in your own house, yes, even if they are your family,” Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said at his weekly COVID-19 press conference. “There’s no genetic immunity that prevents you from giving this virus to your mother, your grandfather, or anyone other loved ones in the house with you.”
Northam urged families to consider outdoor celebrations, continue to socially distance, and wear face coverings.
The siblings praised healthcare workers who took care of their parents and urged families to take the virus seriously.
“We’ve witnessed the unfortunate and horrible strength of this virus,” Keene said. “Think of those people who have been impacted. It’s not about yourself anymore. It’s about the people who are around you and the community you live in.”
A GoFundMe has been set up to help the family with the unexpected funeral expenses.
This article was written by Brendan King for WTVR.