As early as the last days of February, we were hearing the ominous predictions about the coronavirus, the deadly invader that has kept most of us out of work and school, away from loved ones and terrified of human contact. Those predictions included the inescapable truth that soon the virus would touch all our lives, that none of us would be able to claim that no one we knew or loved had fallen victim to the ferocious beast COVID-19. One glance at the obituary pages of the Sunday Telegram proved that prediction to be horribly solid and true.

Even as we mourn those who test positive for the virus and succumb to it, the ripple effect of COVID-19 reaches those of us not infected. I refer to those unfortunate people who need hospitalization for health issues other than COVID-19. Many will die alone in hospital beds, just like the virus sufferers, because visitors are strictly forbidden to enter hospitals. Many nursing home residents will leave this world not surrounded by loved ones as envisioned by their families, but alone, without a final kiss goodbye.

This might have been the case for 96-year-old Esther Wittner, who sadly chose the time of a pandemic to leave this world. Esther was fading in the weeks before her death; her devoted daughter Wendy Perrone was by her side daily, and when her mother was placed in hospice care, Wendy vowed to stay by her side until Esther drew her last breath. Theirs was a beautiful bond that anyone might envy; to see them together was to witness a deep friendship that went well beyond blood relations. They were, in every sense, best friends.

Wendy was as good as her word, dragging an air mattress into her mother’s room and sleeping on the floor beside her for five nights, springing up at the sound of her mother’s voice. A New York native, Esther had begun mumbling about returning home to Brooklyn, sometimes speaking in Yiddish, and worrying if her much-loved late husband, Milton, would be able to find her. Wendy reassured her mother that Milt would be waiting, with a fishing pole topped by a small flag in his hand. This was how she’d kept track of him at swap meets when they became separated, and Wendy was certain Esther would be found in the next world the same way.

Each time her mother became agitated it was Wendy’s voice and touch that calmed her. Because of the threat of COVID-19, Wendy was suited up in protective garb, but there was no way to place her cheek against her mother’s without lifting the mask and shield, and so she did just that. From inside her mother’s room, Wendy heard the sound of residents being moved out of the assisted living complex her mother had called home for a dozen years, until eventually they would be the only residents remaining in the hall. After yet another exhausting night, Wendy fell asleep briefly. Esther passed while her daughter slept, content that her best friend was resting. It was in many ways a final and tender gesture of love.

As she waited for staff to arrive, Wendy watched from her mother’s window as National Guardsmen in full Hazmat suits hosed each other down outside.

“All I could think of was that scene from 'E.T.' when the government scientists surround the alien in a tent,” she said. Indeed, everything about the last few months has recalled for us all sci-fi moments we never dreamed could become reality.

In the hours before Esther’s death, Wendy learned that her mother, though asymptomatic, had tested positive for COVID-19. Wendy opted to continue her vigil, knowing that her mother would have done the same.

Now, as she enters her second week in quarantine, Wendy prefers to think about the extraordinary life her mother led as a Head Start teacher who received her college degree at age 57, whose adventurous spirit took her to both coasts, and whose love of family was immeasurably deep and true. Tributes to her mother pour in via emails and Facebook as word reaches friends and family; Wendy’s room is filled with flowers sent from all corners of the country.

“However this turns out,” she says, “ I have no regrets. I know I did the right thing.”