'Til death do us part': COVID-19 takes couple on same day

Submitted PhotoJeanette Davis Gloster, 94, and William James Gloster, 97, passed Jan. 5, within hours of each other, from COVID-19. They died three days after their 61st anniversary. 

VALDOSTA – Antoinette “Shawn” Linder said her parents, William James and Jeanette Davis Gloster, were the definition of true love. 

The Brooks County couple died the same day, Jan. 5, felled by the coronavirus, the only thing to separate them near the end of their long lives.

But they were laid to rest together. Their love was one that transcended the phrase “til death do us part.”

He was 97. She was 94.

Family and friends joined together Jan. 16 for a funeral remembering the inseparable couple. Linder herself remembers growing up with them.

The Glosters adopted her at the age of 7, teaching her what it meant to be a part of a family, that blood wasn’t the only thing that could tie people together. They were everything you could ask for, Linder said.

“I grew up in a loving home,” she said. “They were loving to me, they were loving to everybody else, they were loving to each other. That’s all we saw.”

Besides Linder, the Glosters took care of other children from single-parent households, usually single mothers. They took care of the children as if they were their own.

The kids became attached but it created a sort of surrogate family for the Glosters, Linder said. The couple extended that family invitation to their community, too.

Once retired, William Gloster from the Brooks County Road Department and Jeanette Gloster from the Quitman Cleaners, the couple opened a convenience store next to their house.

They sold snacks and candy, and had pool tables in the back for the neighborhood kids to play. Linder said the Glosters provided convenience for youths; it was a long walk over the bridge to get to any other store.

Kids called the Glosters Grandma and Grandpa and Mama Jeanette. Youths flocked to them.

Linder said you couldn’t blame them for it. With an open invitation of love and acceptance, no one could turn the couple down.

The love she observed from them was something lifelong for the two. It dated back to when they first met in what Linder calls a “true love story.”

 

When love came to town

They met in their 30s as William walked past Jeanette’s porch on a daily basis. Linder said her mother joked that William went out of his way to walk past the porch.

“She said Daddy would walk a certain way to see her but he knew he didn’t have to come that way. He just came that way so he could see me,” Linder said. “I always joked and said she never explained why she was conveniently there when he would come by that time of day everyday.”

The family laughed about that all of the time, Linder said, but there was nothing but love from that point on.

A moment of attraction led to a lifetime of inseparability. They married Jan. 2, 1960.

“We knew that they loved each other no matter what,” Linder said. “Daddy didn’t play about his wife and Momma didn’t play about her husband.”

That’s what makes it so hard to lose them, Linder said, because even in their last moments they chose to be together rather than apart.

As the couple grew older, they had to fight health issues. Jeanette had developed the early stages of dementia and William was helping her as best he could.

In 2019, Jeanette began to fall often at night, worrying her husband – since he no longer had the strength to pick her up – and family.

The Glosters weren’t the type to sit still, especially William, but they knew something had to change. Linder asked what needed to be done, knowing they didn’t want to leave Quitman.

“He said ‘I guess she’s going to have to go up to the nursing home in Quitman,’” Linder said, responding to his own suggestion. “He said ‘Yes.’”

After consulting the couple’s physician and taking a tour at the home, Jeanette moved there. Not wanting to leave her alone, William joined her.

Linder said the decision was unbelievable because William was an independent man. He was not your average 97-year-old, Linder said.

“Daddy was still driving everyday, giving people rides to the store and going up there to play his lottery tickets,” she said. “Even the day he went to the nursing home, he drove up there in his truck with his walker on the back and found himself a parking space and said ‘This is going to be my parking space.'”

And he parked there the entire time of his stay. The nursing home even gave him his independence to come and go as he pleased as long as he was back by midnight.

 

Facing the coronavirus

Things were fine until the COVID-19 pandemic, Linder said, adding the window visits and William’s inability to leave were difficult but they took things day by day.

Nov. 23, 2020, was the last day Linder was able to visit her parents.

The nursing home called Linder on Dec. 22 telling her Jeanette contracted COVID-19. The next day, she was told William had COVID-19, too.

Jeanette was separated from William when she was first diagnosed with the virus, but once it was revealed they both had it, Linder said no more.

“I said can they put them in a room together and that’s what they did,” she said. “They put them in a room together because they’ve always been in a room together prior to Momma testing positive for COVID.”

William’s health seemed to deteriorate faster than Jeanette and doctors learned he had pneumonia in both lungs. He needed a hospital with an open bed and was sent to Archbold Medical Center in Thomasville.

Jeanette’s health deteriorated and doctors learned she had pneumonia in both lungs, too. She, however, was sent to South Georgia Medical Center.

“There I was with both of them fighting for their life in different hospitals, separate from each other – something they’re not used to,” Linder said.

On their Jan. 2, anniversary, both Glosters were still hospitalized, still separate.

Though her father couldn’t speak, Linder told William she thought her mother was getting better as she was responding vocally. She wanted him to know Jeanette was OK.

At 5:38 a.m., Jan. 5, Linder received the call that her father had died. 

At 9:47 p.m., the same day, she received another call. Her mother had died.

“I try to think positive and I keep thinking that I know that my Momma couldn’t live without my Daddy,” Linder said. “And I know that my Daddy couldn’t live without my Momma.”

So maybe this is what God intended, she said. 

At any point after William and Jeanette met, you’d never have seen them apart. When you saw one, you saw the other.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “It was nothing but love around them. That’s all they outpoured to people and that’s all that people gave them. That is why so many people are truly hurt by them leaving.”

The lesson she’ll remember from their life is this: Have a good heart, love your friends and family and help those who you can.

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