Coronavirus Florida: A love for the ages cut short by COVID-19
Meryl Salkin didn’t think she would fall in love again after her husband of 30 years, George, passed away.
The romantic in Ken Lassiter changed that.
“I’ve never been with anybody so beautiful that was so easy to love,” Lassiter, 85, said. “We felt like teenagers.
But their time together was cut short. Salkin, 84, died from the coronavirus on March 31 at Hospice of Palm Beach County.
Like many families who are grappling with the sudden deaths of their loved ones due to the coronavirus, Salkin’s boyfriend, her sister and her son don't know how she contracted the disease.
They think she was exposed to it when she was taken to JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, after she fell and hit her head in early March.
Her son, Gary Deutsch, said her death made “this whole thing,” the coronavirus pandemic, “kind of real.”
Meryl Seligson Salkin was born in July 1935 in Cedarhurst, N.Y., on Long Island. She grew up with younger sister Doris Davidoff.
They had the typical sisterly relationship.
“She liked to boss me around a little,” Davidoff, 79, said. “Like all sisters, we competed, but when we wanted to do something our parents didn’t want us to do, we would join together.”
The sisters were closer than ever when Davidoff moved last year to Vi at Lakeside Village, a senior living community in Lantana, where Salkin made her home. She was always introduced as “Meryl’s sister.”
Salkin moved around in her three marriages, to Alabama, to New Jersey, and to Palm Beach County in 1979.
She went back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in psychology from Glassboro State College in New Jersey, now called Rowan University.
She held a lot of jobs, one of them owning a hearing aid store.
“She loved helping people,” Deutsch said.
Salkin was outgoing, smart and not afraid to speak her mind. She had a fondness for dachshunds, owning several of her own and collecting hundreds of figurines.
“My mother loved being in the center of attention,” Deutsch said. “If she had to put together something like that (her funeral), I’m sure she would want her family to be there.”
‘Two-person therapy group’
In 2015, Meryl and George Salkin moved into Vi at Lakeside Village a few months after Lassiter and his wife, Carol. Lassiter has served as president of the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations, a consortium that represented Boynton-area condo communities on political issues.
The couples had known each other for a few years and went on dinners together. When their spouses died in 2019, they became “a two-person therapy group,” Lassiter said.
“We don’t have years to mourn,” Lassiter said. “We don’t have that much time to live. If we want to make the most of what we have, we have to move ahead.”
He recalled his wife telling him that if she died before him, she wanted him to mourn for a month and get back into the community.
He waited seven weeks before inviting Salkin to breakfast. At first, she hesitated.
“I talked her into accepting Ken’s invitation to go out,” Davidoff said. “You can tell him you don’t have to marry him. You don’t need to have a relationship.”
“That didn’t last very long, because they immediately fell in love,” Davidoff continued.
Breakfast dates turned into dinner dates, then dances, theater and movies. Once a month, during a full moon, they would sit at the docks on Lake Osborne, reminiscent of their first moonlit dinner date.
Salkin never received a traditional love letter, Lassiter said. He sent them by email.
During a Valentine’s Day luncheon tea at the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum, Lassiter gave Salkin diamond earrings.
Lassiter thinks his late wife would have approved of Meryl, and George would have approved of him.
“They were really living their best lives,” Deutsch said.
A fall and loss of appetite
About five months after they began dating, Lassiter sent an email to Salkin’s daughter, Laurie, concerned because Salkin wasn’t feeling well and didn’t have an appetite. She was admitted to JFK Medical Center in Atlantis on March 22, a Sunday.
It was just a few weeks after she had been at JFK after falling and hitting her head in her community’s cafeteria.
Salkin’s children wanted to fly down to be with her. But neither the community nor the hospital would have let them in, Deutsch said.
At first, the family thought she was just fighting walking pneumonia. She was also tested for the coronavirus, and by Friday the results came back positive.
Doctors tried treating her with hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug that has not been confirmed to treat the virus.
The next Sunday, she was placed in hospice care. Salkin decided not to go on a ventilator.
“I was really worried then. I had two days to get myself around the fact that she might die,” Lassiter said. “I prayed so hard.”
When his wife died in 2019, Lassiter had more time to get ready. Meryl went so quickly.
Lassiter also tested positive for the coronavirus but is asymptomatic. He has been in isolation for three weeks.
“I was shocked” when learning about the test results, Lassiter said. “Maybe the reason God spared me is he has some plan for me that I don’t know what the plan is.”
He and Salkin used to talk about how they hated being alone.
“Those are the only weeks I’ve had where I’ve been alone. I’ve always had someone with me,” Lassiter said. “I hate solitude. Man is meant to be social.”
Salkin, Lassiter and Davidoff were planning to go on a cruise with friends to the Caribbean in December. With Salkin’s passing, and the uncertainty of when the coronavirus pandemic will end, they canceled.
Deutsch was matter-of-fact about his mother’s death, but wished the disease had been addressed sooner.
“It is what it is. She got it. No one did it to her intentionally,” Deutsch said. “It goes through my mind, if people took it more seriously in Florida sooner. I don’t know if that would have changed anything.”
Not able to hold a memorial service in person, Salkin’s family held a virtual one using Zoom on April 5. They asked mourners to contribute to the United Way of Palm Beach County’s COVID-19 Response Fund in her memory.
“There’s so many people that have heartbreaking stories,” Davidoff said. “She became one of them.”
This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.