When Donna Durkin, a mother and grandmother from New York, was first diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, her son knew she would be “too weak to fight it off.”
Donna — who had several underlying health conditions, including diabetes, and had been hospitalized with kidney failure three years ago — died earlier this month, just two days after she tested positive for the coronavirus, her children told BuzzFeed News. She was 63 years old.
“I knew, with everything going on and the type of conditions that she had, it was only a matter of time that she would get it, and I knew she would be too weak to fight it off,” her son, Michael Durkin, told BuzzFeed News.
Her kids were not able to see her in the hospital, and she was too weak to even FaceTime them, they said.
“Patients are completely whisked away, and, like, my brother was unable to go visit her at all. It is completely shot. It almost feels like it's inhumane,” her daughter, Danielle Durkin, told BuzzFeed News. “She didn't deserve what happened. Like, she didn't deserve to be alone, and all we wanted was to tell her that we love her one last time.”
Donna went into the hospital Thursday, April 2, and her coronavirus test came back positive on Friday, April 3, her children told BuzzFeed News. She died soon after on Sunday, April 5.
“She was a woman of simplicity,” Michael said during a recent phone call with BuzzFeed News.
Recently, Michael, who cared for his mother, was going through some of her things and found a journal entry she wrote in June 1979 about meeting her husband in Brooklyn.
The entry, which he shared with BuzzFeed News, read:
The first night I fell in love with Mike Durkin, he wore black pants, black shoes, and socks, White dress shirt, shoes, rolled up sleeves, watch on his right hand, of course. Said as soon as my eyes saw him, "I'm gonna marry him." Love his blue eyes. Spotted them from a distance. Something I will never forget. Then he took me out to eat at Bay Ridge diner. He had bacon and eggs and home fries or french fries and Michelob beer. I had honeydew and onion soup. He took me home and gave me a great kiss goodnight, asked for my number, called me the next day Saturday at 4 pm. Picked me up at seven o'clock, knew how much I loved him, and hope he knows I still do feel the same way.
Mike Durkin died of cancer in 2004, and their son said finding the letter was a beautiful look at a side of their relationship he often didn’t see growing up. “[It] really opened my eyes to like their relationship and how they sort of loved one another,” he said.
Sean Leshko, a family friend, described Donna as “the funniest mother I have ever met.”
“She was so funny and it wasn't because she was trying to be funny. It was just because that was her,” he said. Leshko was good friends with Donna’s daughter, Danielle. His father died around the same time Danielle's father — Donna's husband — died. Leshko said that after his father's death, Donna cared for him in the same way she cared for her own kids.
“She really looked out for me in, like, many, many ways,” he said. “Not just not just for, you know, physical things but she, she gave me a lot of love.”
When Donna was hospitalized in 2017 because of kidney failure, her children thought she was unlikely to survive at the time. Because of that, Donna had already paid for and prepared for her funeral. But because of the outbreak, her family was not able to have everything and everyone there as she had hoped for.
Danielle said they buried their mother with many of her favorite things, including her back scratcher, a word puzzle, silk flowers, and black licorice. When they are able, they plan to have a celebration of her life with friends and loved ones.
“She did so much for everyone,” Danielle said. “We just want to do so much for her.”