Ernesto and Sandra Lemus, from El Salvador, lived the American Dream on Long Island. Pictures shared by family provide a glimpse into their happy home.
"As a promise between themselves, they always said that if god's will they could ever have a kid, mom had to make sure she would raise me from the first day to the last day, and then he would make sure everything else was taken care of," Johalmo Lemus, the couple's son, said.
That's exactly what Ernie, as he was known, did until his very last day.
The couple died two weeks apart after contracting COVID-19. Every day, Ernie's son had to call the hospital to check in on his father.
"We were hoping Dad would get better but on Sunday they called me and told me his lung collapsed due to overworking of the ventilator," Johalmo said.
Ernie died on Tuesday, one day before his son's 22nd birthday. Johalmo thinks his father would have wanted it that way.
"The way I see it is maybe he didn't want me to have that anxiety on the day he knew I should be happy," he said.
Ernie was a well-known chef at Spaghettini Pizza Trattoria in Mineola. During the pandemic, he cooked and helped get meals to frontline workers at a hospital right across the street.
"It was like we went through a whole war together for a whole year, and he did so much for the hospital workers and for this now, it just sucks," Spaghettini's owner, Pasquale Vetrano, said.
Now the owner, the restaurant, and the Long Island community are trying to help Ernie and Sandra's two children; the restaurant started a GoFundMe page.
"At the end of the day it's like he wasn't a doctor or like a scientist, he was just a chef. But he made people smile, that was the most important part,"' Johlamo said.