Married since 1944, Bill and Jill Calderone of Rhode Island both succumbed to coronavirus in May, their son tells PEOPLE

By Jason Duaine Hahn
June 12, 2020 05:12 PM
couple Covid death
Credit: Courtesy Ron Calderone

Ron Calderone says his 100-year-old parents, Bill and Jill Calderone, were in their best shape in years after moving into a Rhode Island care facility in March.

"My good lord, they looked terrific," Ron, 72, tells PEOPLE. "My dad, they shaved him and cut his hair, and they both just looked wonderful."

But the family's elation came to an end when coronavirus hit the nursing home a few weeks later. Bill was the first to be diagnosed with the disease, which is especially deadly for people 65 and older. Jill, who had Alzheimer's and shared a room with her husband, subsequently tested positive as well.

"We finally got to see them over FaceTime and it was awful," Ron recalls of video chatting with his parents after the facility began implementing social distancing restrictions. "I never thought I'd see my parents so debilitated, my father could barely answer me on the phone. I think all they wanted to do was go home."

Bill — a Marine veteran who fought in both World War II and the Korean War — died from complications of coronavirus on May 6. Two weeks later, a nurse held Jill's hand as the former real estate agent and devoted gardener took her last breaths on May 20.

"There's a despair you feel that comes from not being able to see these two people that I've lived with for 72 years," Ron says of his parents. "They've been my entire life."

couple Covid death
Bill and Jill Calderone
| Credit: Courtesy Ron Calderone

Bill and Jill's eight-decade love story began when they met as high school classmates in Rhode Island. They married in 1944, just a few years after Bill joined the military. He stayed in the Marines until his retirement in 1958, ending a nearly 22-year career.

The couple had two children: Richard, who now lives in Hawaii, followed by Ron, who was their primary caretaker and lived next door to them in Cranston for over 35 years.

Since their deaths, Ron has been going through his parents' numerous belongings, and learning more about them with each item he explores. One thing that surprised him? His father held on to toasters from 1958 and cataloged their serial numbers, warranties and place of purchase.

"My dad was precise with everything," Ron says while laughing.

Bill was someone who liked to do things his way, and that's why he was still cutting his own grass with a riding lawnmower at age 99.

couple Covid death
Jill Calderone
| Credit: Courtesy Ron Calderone

"I used to rail at him, 'Dad, what are you doing out here? You could well afford somebody to cut your grass!'" Ron remembers telling Bill. "Well, I'm riding his lawnmower and I get it now. It's kinda fun."

Though he wasn't able to have much time with his mother in her final days, Ron says he shared a touching moment with her just three months ago.

During a visit, Ron showed Jill a statue they won together when he took her to a mother-daughter dance in 1962. Though Jill struggled with her memory due to Alzheimer's, she instantly remembered the trophy.

"She smiled when she saw it," he recalls. "I said, 'Ma, do you remember we did this?' and she said, 'Oh, yeah. We danced!'"

Ron brought the statue with him when he gave their eulogy.

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Though Bill and Jill both contracted coronavirus at the nursing facility, Ron says he doesn't fault the staff and remains grateful for the way they cared for his parents. But with states around the country beginning to relax social distancing restrictions, he hopes people continue to take the virus seriously moving forward.

couple Covid death
Jill and Bill Calderone
| Credit: Courtesy Ron Calderone

"For all those people who think that this virus is nothing more than the flu, come with me to the cemetery. Two people died within two weeks of each other, and this is the result," he adds. "Go visit a cemetery and see all the funerals. I could introduce them to my mom and dad."

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