Catherine Font was looking forward to her 79th birthday, which was coming up in June. She was especially looking forward to one particular part of the celebration – the cake.
“We have so many pictures of her with birthday cakes,” her daughter, Theresa Giusto, said. “She was big on making sure everyone had birthday cakes.”
On April 1, Font was running an intermittent fever. After a virtual appointment, her doctor prescribed an antibiotic. Two days later, with the fever still hanging on, her hands began to shake. So her son-in-law drove her to Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park.
“He told us, ‘They won’t let us go in with her,’” Giusto said. “I said, ‘Don’t leave her there alone.' But she was so weak.”
The family called the hospital every two hours. They were told she had tested positive for the virus, but she was doing well. Her oxygen levels were good, and she was eating.
Giusto’s daughter, Giovanna, offered to stay there with her.
“She said, 'I’ll stay here. I won’t leave the room. I won’t go home,'” Giusto said. “But they said no. Everybody is there all alone. They’re scared. They don’t even know what day of the week it is.”
Giusto said her mom began complaining about chest pains, and passed away on April 7, leaving her family not only grieving, but confused.
“They said, 'Sorry, your mom had a heart attack and she didn’t make it,” Guisto said. “Then they said it was respiratory failure caused by COVID. It breaks my heart that there was nobody there to be an advocate for her. There was no one to help.”
That was especially hard, her daughters say, because she was always there when they needed her.
"She was very strict, but she was loving and protective," said Cathy Rooney, the youngest of Font's five daughters. "She’d do anything for her kids, and she always defended us no matter what. She always got along with everyone.”
Catherine Font was one of nine children. She was born in Brooklyn, but the family moved to Howard Beach. She would stay there, marry there and raise her children there. Her marriage wouldn’t last, but her dedication to keeping her family together did.
“Even though they separated,” Rooney said, “our dad would come over. They had a remarkable friendship.”
Font was a stay-at-home mom, who focused on raising her five children, Theresa, Nancy, Susie, Louie and Cathy. Giusto remembers it wasn’t always easy.
“She would have to portion out everything,” she said. “She would have these little bags, and she would have six pork chops, and she’d make sure she had enough for all of us.”
She loved their Friday night family card games.
“She loved playing cards,” Giusto said. "She would get so excited, so we made a ritual of playing cards on Friday nights.”
If it wasn’t cards, it was Bingo or her favorite television programs, “Matlock” and “The Andy Griffith Show.” And, Rooney said, she loved to travel.
“We went to the Bahamas and Florida and Puerto Rico,” Rooney said. “We were going to go to Myrtle Beach. She loved it.”
But what her family will most remember about the grandmother of eight is her kindness.
“She was always caring,” Giusto said. “She was always helping people. She was just a loving. caring person.”
“I was so used to calling her every day,” Rooney said. “I loved visiting her and seeing the smile on her face. We were making an apartment for her, and she couldn’t wait to go there. When she saw it, she held me and cried and said she loved it. But she never got the chance to live there.”
And like so many who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, they are heartbroken that they never really had a chance to say goodbye.
“This whole situation is so disturbing,” Giusto said, “and we have no closure. It still feels like it isn’t true. We just know we took her to the hospital and she’s not coming home because we were told she is gone. We could only have 10 people at the funeral. We just wanted to be close to her and touch the casket, but they wouldn’t let us. They wouldn’t even let the priest in. He had to throw holy water from across the room. Everything is so confusing.”