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.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NOEL KING, HOST:
Time for StoryCorps. Today we have a talk between Alice Stockton-Rossini and her mother Jackie Stockton. Both of them survived COVID-19. The outbreak in their community in New Jersey was traced to Jackie's 90th birthday party, which was held at her church in March.
ALICE STOCKTON-ROSSINI: Do you remember when you realized you had COVID-19?
JACKIE STOCKTON: I never realized it. One day I was at church, and that's all I remember until I woke up in a hospital. And apparently, I'd been there for a while.
STOCKTON-ROSSINI: We had your birthday party before there was social distancing. And the next thing we knew, nine members of our family had it. I lost my brother-in-law, and five members of our church are dead. It's just - it's mind blowing. It really is.
STOCKTON: Yes, it is.
STOCKTON-ROSSINI: How is it different than other major events that have happened in your lifetime?
STOCKTON: Well, I remember 9/11 as though it just happened, but then it was over. This will never, ever be over. This is different - much more personal. The most difficult part of this is losing my best friend. I've known her since she was a young girl, and then suddenly she was gone. And nobody would tell me.
STOCKTON-ROSSINI: We couldn't tell you right away.
STOCKTON: It's very difficult.
STOCKTON-ROSSINI: It was.
STOCKTON: It still is and always will be.
STOCKTON-ROSSINI: What do you worry about most now?
STOCKTON: I always worry about my family - always. It takes a long time to say my prayers at night. I have so many kids, grandkids - got to pray for everybody.
STOCKTON-ROSSINI: Lay in bed at night hoping it's just going to be better tomorrow.
STOCKTON: Yes, that's the most important thing.
STOCKTON-ROSSINI: If you could give one piece of advice on getting through what we're going through right now, what would it be?
STOCKTON: One piece? Oh, my. I guess, faith - faith that things will get better, faith that people will come together more instead of tearing each other apart. There's always been something. And we've come through it, just like when Daddy's grandmother, who raised him, lost half of her children.
STOCKTON-ROSSINI: Grandmom Haines did?
STOCKTON: Yes, she did. She lived through the worst kind of hell - having to bury so many of your children. But look how she came through it. She was an amazing woman and so was her husband. They just did things they needed to do. And they survived.
STOCKTON-ROSSINI: Put one foot in front of the other. Take one day at a time. What did you always say, mom? One minute at a time.
STOCKTON: You got to keep going. That's for sure.
KING: That was Jackie Stockton and her daughter Alice Stockton-Rossini. They recorded their conversation using StoryCorps Connect. That's a platform that lets people interview each other remotely and then upload to the StoryCorps archive at the Library of Congress. To record an interview, you can go to npr.org and find it there. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.