By Juli McDonald

SALEM, NH (CBS) – A New Hampshire family is grieving a mother and father who died holding hands in the hospital after getting COVID.

A brightly colored Christmas tree in a Salem, New Hampshire home represents one family’s final joy.

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“We don’t want to take it down. It’s the last thing they saw,” Melissa Noke said sadly.

Carol and Bill Stewart (WBZ-TV)

“Didn’t matter what we were doing as long as we were all together,” Melissa added, of life with her parents, twin sister, and the four grandchildren.

It was just before the holiday that COVID swept through their unvaccinated home; infecting Bill and Carol Stewart, their adult daughters, and four teens. The couple, together 45 years, became critically ill.

“All the nurses and staff said throughout their whole career they’ve never seen this before,” Melissa said.

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We’ve sadly all seen what this virus will steal. But what it could never take, or weaken, is a love like the Stewarts’.

“They wheeled both of them side by side. No sooner did they place their hands together and they touched, they both took their last breath,” Melissa remembered.

Carol and Bill Stewart hold hands in the hospital (Family photo)

Even in the family’s mourning, there is such comfort and peace in knowing Bill and Carol Stewart never lived a moment without the other. Their loving example now lives in their family’s hearts forever.

“I’ve told them numerous times it’s an honor to be your kid,” she said.

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The sisters are touched by their community’s and even strangers’ support of an online fundraiser for the family. Melissa said she and her sister do plan to get their vaccines to protect other loved ones in their lives.

Juli McDonald