High school sweethearts die of Covid-19 hours apart after one last family video call

Blanca Estela and Juan Manuel Rodriguez officially became a couple in high school.

(CNN)Blanca Estela Rodriguez looked at her husband of almost 50 years as he lay sedated. Juan had a tube coming from his mouth and a machine was breathing for him.

As they each battled the effects of Covid-19, Blanca wanted Juan to know she still found him to be handsome.
What would have been a deeply moving message in person was instead imparted in a video call among the couple, their four children and numerous grandchildren.
Rather than being together, Blanca and Juan had been transported to different hospitals in San Diego. His bride was doing all the talking, even though she was wearing an oxygen mask and struggling to breathe.
    "She told my dad that he was the love of her life and that she loved him," daughter Blanca Velazquez recalled. "She told us all that she loved us."
    The call ended with Blanca telling her husband she would see him later.
    The 67-year-olds from San Diego, who became an official couple in high school, died just hours apart following the call, their family said. Covid-19 took Blanca first and about three hours later, her soulmate Juan joined her, also on February 8.
    Now their four children are left to do the unthinkable: Bury both of their parents following a joint funeral and visitation on Wednesday.
    They are having to cope with the loss of their parent's legendary love, their vanished presence in everyday conversations and with the finality of a funeral at a time when the world is upside down.

    They fell in love in high school

    Ever since they met in middle school as seventh-graders in homeroom, there was an instant bond. Juan flirted with Blanca and Blanca talked about his big green eyes. Each of them immigrated from Mexico as children before they met at a San Diego middle school.
    "When she would turn around and look at him, he would wink at her. She remembered that he had these green eyes," daughter Anna Cabral said. "I guess around that time he started telling her and his friends that he was going to marry her one day."
    The pair was just 11 and 12 years old and before there were butterflies, they were just schoolchildren. They got back together as high school juniors, but Blanca maintained she wasn't that interested in Juan and they broke up.
    Juan was at the sweethearts dance with another date during their senior year, when Blanca told him she wanted him back.
    Juan and Blanca were high schoolers when they fell in love.
    "It wasn't until she was a senior when she saw him with someone else at a dance and she went up to him and told them, 'Oh, you're going to be my boyfriend now,'" Blanca Velazquez said. "And my dad said, 'OK.' They were together ever since."
    The couple was together for about 50 years, their children said in a phone call, all four of them jumping in to share stories about their parents.
    They eloped in 1972 and were married for 48 years, their children said.
    "When she would walk in, his face would light up like it was the first time, like she was the most beautiful thing in a world," daughter Cynthia Rodriguez said. "His whole face with this glow. It was so weird."
    Their son, Juan Manuel Rodriguez Jr., remembered their love story in a simple, elegant way.
    "I really do think my mom and dad had one soul. It wasn't two souls -- it was one," he said.

    They worked hard, but they put their family first

    Blanca Rodriguez stayed at home with her children for years before she went back to school as an adult, even taking classes with her children at a community college.
    Blanca worked as a social worker for San Diego County for a few years and some of that time was spent working alongside Blanca, who is named after her. The mother later became an investigator with the US Department of Transportation -- she was a special agent, her children said.
    "She went from being my mom, who was always home with us to my mom, who was doing inspections on these massive companies and dealing with all these people," Anna Cabral said. "And she did it with grace. My mom to us was like a princess."
    Their father was one of the "hardest workers" they had ever seen, Juan Jr. said of his father, whom he was named after. He was a residential supervisor for the workers and teenagers who lived in the dorms at the San Diego Job Corps.
    "He would actually go to work at the San Diego Job Corps hours early before his shift and would stay after hours," Juan Jr. said. "There were some days that he would go to work and he wasn't even scheduled to work."
    The Rodriguez family always stuck together. Here are all four siblings back in the '90s.
    Outside of work, the parents each had their own passions. Blanca loved cooking, animals and tending to her rose garden on the side of the house.
    Music and sports fueled Juan's heart, beside his family. He loved The Beatles and mariachi music. But it was sports and coaching youth baseball and youth soccer that he loved most.
    From 1990 to 1997, he coached soccer, often inviting players into their home, the family said.
    "We had boys on the soccer team that didn't have very good families and they were always welcomed in our home," Anna Cabral said. "They would come over and we didn't have much either growing up, so my parents would make sure everyone ate, and they'd make sure everyone had somewhere to sleep."
    Some of those soccer players will be among the pallbearers at his funeral on Wednesday, the family said.
    This couple married for 70 years were scheduled to get the Covid-19 vaccine, but died from the virus before their appointment