Ed Kemble Jr. isn’t sure how the coronavirus first entered his household.
He lost four family members after they contracted COVID-19 late last year: his wife, younger brother, mother-in-law and mother-in-law’s sister, all of whom had serious underlying conditions.
Kemble Jr.’s wife could’ve picked it up at her retail job, aides who took care of his brother could have carried it inside or he could’ve caught the virus at his work. Ultimately, it’s a mystery, the Burlington County man said.
“It could’ve come from many different directions. It’s invisible. You can’t see it so you can’t know where it came from,” said Kemble Jr., a volunteer fireman and truck driver.
Now, the 61-year-old is living alone in the Riverside home they all once shared and telling the story of how the coronavirus impacted his family. He hopes it pushes others to take the virus seriously and follow social distancing guidelines.
“People should be made aware (the virus) is out there. People (should) keep their distance from one another and obey the rules everyone is saying,” he said.
At one point, Kemble Jr. said all of his relatives were hospitalized together in the COVID-19 unit at Virtua Willingboro Hospital while he called them on Facetime, unable to see them in person due to visitor limitations.
“All I can say is thank God for iPhones,” he said.
It all started in November, when Kemble Jr. said his wife, Barbara, was taken to the hospital because she was dehydrated from kidney issues and had chest pains. She was tested for the coronavirus, and the results came back positive, he said. Barbara, who had diabetes, was eventually put on a breathing tube.
In the following two months, she bounced between South Jersey hospitals and rehabilitation facilities, Kemble Jr. said, and died on Jan. 16 from a stroke. Leading up to her death, Kemble Jr. said he would drop off Jersey Mikes sandwiches and iced tea at the hospital for her— one of her favorite meals— but wasn’t allowed to go into her room.
The two were married for nearly 40 years, meeting when teenagers growing up in Riverside. Barbara was president of the Washington Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary in Delanco and a member of the Riverside Emergency Squad and New Jersey Fire Ladies Auxiliary, among other organizations. She previously worked for NJM Insurance and AAA Insurance, and more recently as a cashier at Walmart in Cinnaminson, Kemble Jr. said.
“All of our lives reflected around the fire company,” he said. “A lot of times we hung out at the park in town, playing and stuff.”
“(The coronavirus) contributed to her (health) problems. Her cause of death was a stroke,” he said.
During Barbara’s two months hospitalized, Kemble Jr.’s other family members fell sick too.
His mother-in-law, Ruth Sharp Allen, was brought to the hospital in early December after developing a pneumonia and cough, and tested positive for coronavirus. She died first on Dec. 2 at 89 years old.
Five days later, Kemble Jr. said his younger brother John Daniel Kemble — who had been bedridden after losing both of his legs to diabetes and was being cared for by home health aides — was taken to the hospital by an emergency squad because he needed emergency dialysis.
He tested positive for COVID-19 at the hospital, Kemble Jr. said. The virus made recovering more difficult, and he died of a heart attack on Dec. 7.
Like his wife, Kemble Jr. said his brother loved helping others. He held multiple positions with the Riverside Emergency Squad as an EMT and was a life member of the Delran Emergency Squad. He drove for United Refrigeration in Pennsauken and was a Riverside Bus driver.
“John, he answered over 2,000 ambulance calls (over the years) with Delran and Riverside,” he said.
Less than a week after John died, Ruth Allen’s sister Eileen Wolverton, affectionately known as Aunt Eileen, passed away in Willingboro hospital, Kemble Jr. said. She had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in the fall, he said. She also was positive for COVID-19, and had a bad cough.
She was a member of the Delanco/Washington Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary team, Kemble Jr. said, and she helped take care of Kemble Jr.’s bedridden brother John.
Kemble Jr., a volunteer Riverside fireman, said he is getting his second dose of the coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday in Burlington County along with the rest of the company.
But he wishes the vaccines were widely available sooner so his family could’ve had protection. His relatives died as doses were only beginning to be distributed in New Jersey.
“They should’ve been (available),” Kemble Jr. said. “There would’ve been a hell of a lot of people alive if it was.”
A GoFundMe created for the family has raised more than $2,200 for Ed Kemble Jr. to pay help pay medical bills, home expenses and burial costs. Another GoFundMe campaign started by Kemble Jr.’s niece has raised more than $5,000.
Kemble Jr. said he is planning a memorial service at Delray Methodist Church, a burial a Lakeview Memorial Park in Cinnaminson and a luncheon at the Delanco fire station. A date has not yet been set, but he is hoping for May.
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