In what she didn’t know would be one of the last texts to her childhood friend, Ashley Willisch wrote to Melissa Tucker, “You don’t have to answer. But just know we love you (even if we don’t see you enough).”
Tucker had been admitted to a New York hospital with pneumonia in late March and later tested positive for the coronavirus, her friends told BuzzFeed News.
But even as she lay on a hospital bed, pumped full of drugs that made her body feel like it was on fire, Tucker answered Willisch's text immediately.
In what Willisch described as “Melissa mode,” Tucker made a post-pandemic plan to invite her friends to the Staten Island house she had recently moved into with her boyfriend, Raymond Tickle.
“When this all passes and social distancing is not needed. Ray and I will have every[one] over to our place in SI,” Tucker texted Ashley on March 29.
Just two days later, Tucker died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. She was 34.
Willisch and her sister, Cathryn DelaRosa, grew up with Tucker in Carmel, a small picturesque town in New York's Hudson Valley. The three women, along with a group of others from the same town and school, remained the kind of friends who didn’t have to meet often to be there for each other when it mattered.
Like Willisch, DelaRosa also texted Tucker when she found out she was in the hospital in March. But unlike her sister, DelaRosa never got the chance to tell her friend that she loved her.
The two of them had a “normal conversation” in which they talked about ordinary things like DelaRosa's recent move to a new area which had a restaurant that Tucker really liked. During the conversation, Tucker joked about how her boyfriend never got sick, while she always did.
DelaRosa sent Tucker a video of her son “doing silly things” to lift her spirits.
“I love his hair,” Tucker wrote back with three heart-eyes emojis, adding that she was going to start calling him “marshmellow.”
The next day, DelaRosa texted Tucker to check up on her but didn’t get a response. She texted her again the next day but didn’t hear back.
She found out that Tucker had died that day.
“Looking back at that conversation, I feel selfish,” said DelaRosa, breaking down in tears. “While I was talking to her, it wasn’t like I knew she was going to pass away. I feel like there was so much I would have liked to say.”
DelaRosa would have liked to tell Tucker how much she meant to her family.
She would have liked to tell her that she was a huge part of their lives whether they saw her as often as they wanted to.
She would have liked to tell her that “we loved her and we’d always think about her.”
DelaRosa said when Tucker died in March, her family and community didn’t really know the magnitude of the disease and didn’t know anyone who had died from it.
Now, when she hears about anybody who is sick, the conversations are different, she said.
“I’m not wasting any conversations. I’m not talking about the weather,” DelaRosa said. “You just say what you have to say to everybody in your life.”
Tucker, who worked as a senior specialist in construction/labor relations for Con Edison, is one of eight of the company's employees in New York who have died from COVID-19. As of April 29, 377 Con Ed employees had tested positive for the virus, a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
Willisch and DelaRosa said Tucker had asthma when she was younger and that she had mentioned having a weak immune system.
"She got sick often," DelaRosa said.
“This virus has led to too many heartbreaking deaths and illnesses around the world, in America, here in New York, and at Con Edison,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with our late colleagues’ family and friends.”
When Raymond Tickle now returns home from his work as a bus operator for the MTA and sees Tucker's car parked outside their Staten Island house, he thinks, "Maybe it was just a nightmare. Maybe she's home."
Tickle and Tucker, who began dating in 2017 after meeting online, went on all sorts of "adventures" together, Tickle said.
They moved in together last February after finding a home that would have enough space for their newly-adopted dog and Tucker's cat. The house had a fire pit for a barbecue and the couple had planted fruits in their garden. They had planned on having their friends over more often now that there were more parking spots available.
He last spoke to Tucker on the phone a day before she died. He said he hadn't even planned on talking to her and had called the nurses' station just to check on Tucker. But they patched him through to her and the couple spoke for about 10 to 15 minutes about "normal stuff."
Tickle said he told her that he was taking care of the animals and was cleaning the apartment and putting her clothes away because he had just washed them. He said that he didn't want to make her talk for too long since she needed to rest.
He told her to call her or text him whenever she needed to talk through the night because "she knew I'd answer," Tickle said.
Instead, Tickle got a call from the hospital saying Tucker had been intubated. Even then, Tickle said, he thought it was "no big deal" and that it would just help her breathe and feel better.
Then, the hospital called him again to tell him she had died.
At first, he couldn't process it, Tickle said. "I even asked the doctor, 'Wait, what? Are you serious? What happened?'"
Now, he misses holding her and talking to her and going on adventures with her.
The sisters remembered their childhood friend as an exceedingly thoughtful and “over-the-top” generous person — the kind who brings you soup when you’re sick and buys the best gifts for everyone.
“You know there are some people in your life that you know you love them but they don’t really give too much of themselves to you,” DelaRosa said. “Melissa gave 100% of herself to all of us.”
DelaRosa said Tucker was someone who always brought three dozen cupcakes to a party, never a dozen — and not store-bought cupcakes, but always specialty or homemade cupcakes.
She was a friend who accompanied DelaRosa all the times she wanted to walk by her crush in high school.
She was the kind of person who bought Converse sneakers for someone’s granddaughter whom she had never met — just to do something nice for somebody.
Willisch recalled the time during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 when Tucker offered to accompany her to drive around donating food and resources to people in Far Rockaway and Breezy Point.
“She got out of her car and said, ‘Hold on one second. I couldn’t sleep last night so I decided to bake,’” Willisch said. “Then she proceeded to take dozens and dozens of decadent cupcakes out of her trunk. All different flavors, all homemade, not from the box."
“She was over-the-top generous with everyone in her life,” Willisch said. “With her beautiful smile and vibrant heart, she reminds all of us to be a little less self-serving.”
If there’s anything to learn from her friend’s death, DelaRosa said, it’s that “life can be very short.”
“Don’t take even one conversation for granted,” she said. “Live life how she did. Give everybody your everything. You just never know.”