Three or four times a day, Nicholas Applegate would chat with his dad, Jim Applegate. Jim, 54, was a pastor at Westview Christian Church in Campbellsburg, Indiana, and Applegate served as youth pastor. Both of them farmed and Applegate often relied on his dad’s advice about work and life.
“Dad was always with me. He was always encouraging me and helping me,” Applegate told TODAY. “He was just my best friend.”
That’s why his death due to COVID-19 is so painful. But his grief was compounded when his grandmother, Pat Applegate, died 12 hours after Jim and his aunt, MaryJane Applegate, died four days later, both from complications of the coronavirus.
“Losing my dad was tough enough,” he said. “By the time we lost my aunt I was just pretty numb.”
‘A lot of people’ got sick after Thanksgiving
The Applegates said they followed what public health experts recommended regarding COVID-19: They wore masks, used hand sanitizer and skipped big holiday gatherings. Church services looked different, too. Everyone wore a mask, sat at least 6 feet apart from other families and received communion in sealed packets.
“We have done everything that the health professionals recommend,” Applegate said. “We’re not sure where it came from. A lot of people in our community after Thanksgiving got sick … It just hit our community hard.”
Jim first noticed something was wrong when he couldn’t taste anything. Then he felt exhausted. Applegate also lost his taste and they both learned they had COVID-19. While he felt tired, Applegate, 26, didn’t have a serious case of COVID-19.
“I had one day where I was pretty weak,” he said. “But other than that, it was honestly a piece of cake.”
The second week with COVID-19, Jim started coughing and quickly deteriorated.
“He developed this real bad cough and it was all downhill from then,” Applegate said. “Every day it just got worse.”
The family was surprised that Jim became so ill. He was overweight, but otherwise healthy.
“My dad was never sick before he got COVID,” his son explained.
Pat, who was 84, had stage 5 kidney failure. When she became sick, the family worried. But they were surprised when MaryJane, 59, became very ill with COVID-19.
“She was skinny, she was in great shape,” Applegate said. “She smoked in her younger days and I believe that had a (role) in her developing serious breathing trouble.”
The family tried caring for their symptoms at home, but on Dec. 12, Jim went to the hospital. The next day, Pat went to the hospital in the morning and MaryJane was there by the evening.
“My dad went to the hospital because his oxygen saturation levels were not normal, they were at 87,” Applegate explained. “My dad drove himself to the hospital and he walked into the hospital and he did not walk back out.”
For a few days they gave him supplemental oxygen, but it wasn’t enough. They put him on a machine to help him breath. But he vomited into the machine and he swallowed some, which got to his lungs.
“Dad never came off the ventilator after that,” Applegate said. “It was just bad report after bad report.”
Pat was never on a ventilator or in the intensive care unit.
“She was making a recovery ... But then she, of course, has been in stage 5 kidney failure … and her kidneys stopped working,” he said. “She has always told us that she would never do dialysis. And, she just told the family that she's going to go on and be with Jesus.”
She went into hospice care at the hospital then. After a few days with supplemental oxygen, doctors told MaryJane she needed to be on a ventilator. She called the family in a panic.
“She was scared to death about it,” Applegate said. “Unfortunately, she didn’t come off the ventilator.”
On Dec. 20, Jim died. He never knew his mother and sister were in the hospital. Twelve hours later, Pat died. Applegate’s brother, Andrew, 18, sang to his grandmother as she passed away.
“She actually died while listening to my brother,” he said. “She was very peaceful.”
On Christmas Eve, MaryJane died.
“Dad never knew that Granny went to the hospital and dad never knew that MaryJane went to the hospital. Granny never knew that dad died and MaryJane didn’t know,” Applegate explained. “He’s probably mad at me because the last time we talked, he asked me how they were doing and I told him they were doing fine because I didn’t want to worry him. I said, ‘When he gets to heaven, he’s going to turn the corner and see them both there and he’s going to be like, what the heck?’”
Mourning the losses
Jim was a pastor for 21 years and loved to sing. Everyone in the small community knew him and felt touched by him.
“They’re hurting,” Applegate said. “When you go anywhere in town, people will come up to you and they’ll just tell you they are sorry for your loss.”
But they knew Pat and Mary Jane, too. Pat sent everybody cards for holidays, anniversaries and birthdays. MaryJane would do “anything to make you happy,” and both she and Pat were known for their cooking and baking.
“MaryJane just loved so big. She had a heart of gold — all three of them did,” he said.
Applegate has taken over as pastor temporarily since his dad was sick though the church was holding online services.
“Preaching, that’s how I feel close to my dad because me and my dad we spent a lot of our time in the church working together,” Applegate said. “I’m hoping that I get the chance to fill his shoes one day.”
Applegate also wants people that hear about his family to consider being kind.
“I wear the mask because it talks about in the Bible that we should love our neighbor like we love ourselves,” he said. “I love myself a lot and I don’t want myself to be sick. I should have that same feeling for my neighbor … I want to watch out for them and take care of them and love them.”