Lost to coronavirus: Retired teachers had focus on dying daughter when Covid took their lives
Long-retired from teaching in Brooklyn, Robin and Michael Lamkay had composed a whole second chapter in Delray Beach. The past 25 years saw the birth of new friendships and family and came with plenty of challenges. Robin, 76, had seemingly beat lung cancer. Michael, 82, was battling bone cancer.
But as spring came into view, both Lamkays were fixated not on their health, but that of their 47-year-old daughter in nearby Boca Raton.
Alison Weinstein had moved to sit on a chair and instead landed butt on the floor. A precautionary medical scan that followed revealed stage 4 lung cancer that had traveled to her brain, says Alison’s husband Jeff Weinstein.
"In their world? Covid? Schmovid," Weinstein said. "Their daughter was going in for brain surgery."
Still the contagion marched on, and in late March, Robin Lamkay had all of the telltale symptoms of the illness. With a bed-ridden husband at home she decided to drive herself to Boca Regional Hospital. She never came home.
The Lamkays’ son, Alison’s older brother Wayne Lamkay, flew in from L.A. to care for his dad. The Weinstein’s farewell to the grandmother of two came as so many do these days, over someone’s cell phone. Wayne Lamkay says somehow in the turbulence of his mom in the hospital, his father and sister bedridden, he didn’t even get that.
Days later, the virus took Michael Lamkay firmly in its grip, sending him to the very hospital where his wife had taken her last breaths. A family connection managed Lamkay’s eventual transfer to hospice in West Palm Beach. Another phoned farewell followed, Wienstein said.
The medical examiner would record Mr. Lamkay’s death 13 days after Mrs. Lamkay, on April 13.
On Tuesday, the Lamkays’ family sustained another blow. After lingering months in paralysis amid a pandemic, Alison too died, her husband Jeff Weinstein said. For the third time this year, he’s sorting out the details of death. He’s at home with a growing collection of ashes, but no immediate plans for funerals or memorials.
Catastrophes are piling up so fast, Weinstein says he sometimes forgets that his in-laws, once so integral to their daily lives, are gone.
Just the other day, before his wife’s death, Weinstein went to dial up Robin to watch over Alison and the kids while he ran an errand, only to realize she wouldn’t be answering the call.
Planning ahead has been impossible.
“I can’t think past this afternoon,” Weinstein said. “My life is lived in very, very short little nibbles. If I take in the whole thing, I just choke.”
Looking backward is a little gentler and more manageable.
In January, the family gathered for Max Weinstein’s bar mitzvah - a milestone Alison had been planning since Max’s birth, says her husband. Just days after her diagnosis, Alison persuaded her doctors to spring her for this one event before brain surgery - a procedure that would later render her paralyzed.
Robin and Michael Lamkay dressed up in their finest and gathered for photos with their only grandchildren, Max, 13, and Mollie, 15.
The deadly coronavirus was out there, but it hadn’t yet earned its official name, Covid-19.
Robin and Michael met in the 1960s at a ski lodge. She taught art to kindergartners. He taught biology to high schoolers. Teachers in their neck of the woods didn’t make much money but pooled what they had to hit the slopes, Weinstein said.
Their son Wayne Lamkay remembers a childhood punctuated by road trips - skiing in the winter, the beaches of Florida in the summer. When the pair retired and got fed up with winters, they headed south, eventually setting up home in the Polo Trace community in Delray Beach.
In the early years, Robin started up an art class that met in the clubhouse, her son recalled. She favored teaching painting and some crafts, he said. As they aged, the rise of social media opened reconnections with past colleagues and students.
“They were both first generation Americans,” Weinstein said. “The old man was especially a riot. He was a jock. Very socially conscious - they were public school teachers after all. They had a lot of friends. Quite the couple.
“More than their grandchildren, they love the casino,” Weinstein joked. “When their phone was going to voicemail, he was playing poker, and she was at the tables doing something.”
“We don’t know who gave who the virus,” Weinstein said.
Michael’s sister got it too, says son Wayne. “Luckily, she was able to beat it. A cousin of ours also got it. He beat it too.”
Neither Wayne, nor his sister or her family have developed any symptoms.
Michael and Robin were married 55 years.
Weinstein has been certain for months that he and Alison, together 17 years, would not get to that milestone. Once a human resources consultant and PTA mom, Alison’s life began imploding in January, but even aggressive cancer was outpaced by Covid. Her parents, seemingly healthy and ready to stand by her diagnosis at year’s beginning, were swiftly in the pandemic’s grip and gone by spring.
And even then, the Weinsteins were not free to grieve the grandparents who’d always been there. Instead, they were focused on mom.
“It’s just been a tidal wave of horrific news,” said Weinstein, who also lost a friend to overdose in recent months. “Needless to say, I’m looking forward to 2021. If anything can come out of this: Don’t take anything for granted. Every day is a gift.”