By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As the country prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving during a pandemic, a Philadelphia family wants to share their story of survival and hope that includes a devastating loss.

And they have a message for everyone — please take this virus seriously.

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“They were constant companions for 57 years,” said Denise Wackes. “They had a great love story.”

Pat and Ed McGrody’s love story includes four kids and a bunch of grandchildren — a big happy Philadelphia family.

But this joy has been crushed by COVID.

“Twelve members of my family, all the way from my 83-year-old father down to my 10-year-old daughter,” said Wackes.

Wackes says it started when her dad fell and had to be hospitalized twice in May when COVID was surging.

“It all spiraled. When he was home between the first and second fall, my sister, my brother, we all took turns taking care of him,” Wackes said. “And he just got sicker and sicker.”

They think he was infected on his first trip to the hospital and it’s where Ed McGrody ended up dying, in a hospital on lockdown.

“He passed away alone without any family there?” asked CBS3’s Stephanie Stahl.

“Yes,” Wackes said. “He was peaceful but he was alone and that’s the hardest thing for us because he spent all his life taking care of us,” said Wackes.

He was a Philly cop, a family man who loved the Eagles and celebrating with his family.

It’s this dedication and togetherness that gave the virus entry to their family even though they took every precaution possible with masks, gloves and distancing.

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“My brother had it and didn’t have any symptoms. Myself, I brought it home to my husband and my two kids and then my sister has her husband, my brother-in-law,” Wackes said. “He ended up in the hospital for almost two weeks.”

The family was reeling with all with different COVID symptoms and the day after dad died, mom was hospitalized with it. Again no visitors were allowed.

“She was in and out of the hospital for about the next 30 days while grieving her husband of almost 57 years and we couldn’t be there,” said Wackes. “It’s just heartbreaking that she was grieving alone.”

The worst is over now for the family but many are still struggling with the lingering effects of COVID.

“It will always be a part of our legacy,” Wackes said. “As sad as it was, we are very blessed by our family and friends.”

Now filled with gratitude for what they do have, Wackes and her family are facing the first holiday season without their leader. And like so many Americans, they’re figuring out what to do about Thanksgiving.

“My kids say we all had it so we can be together, but we still don’t know about immunity, that makes us a little nervous,” she said.

Wackes says it’s going to be a smaller Thanksgiving but one full of happy memories of the days before the pandemic took so much.

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Stephanie Stahl