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Kelly Conkey Billups is struggling to imagine what her life will look like after the coronavirus pandemic. So far, the virus has killed both of her parents and her brother. And now, her husband is in an Ohio hospital fighting for his life.
“It’s like a nightmare. It’s like ... knowing that a big winter storm is blowing in and you get prepared and you hunker down and you just wonder how bad it’s going to get, how long it’s going to last, and what happens when it’s all over and how you dig yourself out,” Kelly told the Columbus Dispatch. “But I don’t know how to dig myself out now.”
The Conkey family was a close-knit clan. "Really we all just did everything together as a family," Kelly told the newspaper. "It was all of us or none of us.”
So after Judith Conkey, Kelly's 75-year-old mother, had surgery earlier this month, her son David and his wife, Karen, drove two and a half hours from northeast Ohio to Columbus to help Judith get settled at a rehabilitation center. With David back in town, the Conkey family "laughed and joked and just had a ball," said Kelly.
The weeks since then have been a blur for Kelly. The day after David left, he started experiencing flulike symptoms. On March 10, he went to his doctor and was diagnosed with double ear and sinus infections. Just two days later, he was hooked up to a ventilator and was fighting for his life. The next day, Lewis Conkey, David and Kelly's father, started feeling ill. And then within a few days, their mother was also displaying symptoms of COVID-19. Then, on March 23, Kelly had to call an ambulance for her husband, Don.
Amid all of this bad news, Kelly posted a photo of her family to Facebook with the simple caption, "These people are my world!"
On Sunday, March 29, Kelly's brother, David, died. Two days later, her parents, high school sweethearts Lewis and Judith, died just a few hours apart.
“I prayed to my brother to come with God to take them together because our parents would never have survived knowing that we lost him,” Kelly told the newspaper. “They would not have been able to recover. Not ever.”
After all they had been through, the hospital made a special exception to the strict COVID-19 visitation rules for the family, Katie Garbrandt, Kelly's daughter, told WCMH in Columbus. (Contacted by BuzzFeed News, Katie asked for the family's previous media interviews to serve as comment.)
“We were all gowned, all gloved, all masked,” Garbrandt told the television station. “They met us at the door and escorted us the whole way through and they’ve been very, very supportive, very compassionate the entire time.”
On March 29, some of Kelly's friends set up a GoFundMe page to help the family cover the escalating medical and burial costs. Since then nearly 1,000 people have donated.
On Monday, Kelly left an update on the GoFundMe stating that her husband was still on a ventilator but was able to respond to basic commands.
“We’re hanging in there,” Katie told WCMH. “We’ve gotten a lot of prayers, support, and love from all of our family, friends, several people we don’t know as well as the hospital, and that’s really what’s keeping us going.”