When parents are taken by COVID-19, their kids step up to look after siblings

Marlene Torres, a single mother of two, took in siblings Juan, Raymond, Angel, and Beatriz after their father died from COVID-19. Juan Martinez, 19, is caring for four of his young siblings.
10:23 | 02/23/21

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Transcript for When parents are taken by COVID-19, their kids step up to look after siblings
for immune support. It's not every day a parade of first responders and the mayor of the city comes to the door with gift in hand. On three. Happy birthday to you But last may in pasaek, new Jersey, not even they could miss want's 11th birthday. It was on my birthday, I woke up, I was kind of excited. I didn't know there would be a parade with the police department outside waiting for me. The whole police department showed up. An unforgettable celebration. Happy birthday dear Juan Meant to help him momentarily forget. I assume you got a cake, when you blew out the candles what did you wish for? For everything to go normal. To go back in time and to stop everything from happening. To go back in time, before his father Ramon Ramirez came down with covid a week before his birthday when his sister came rushing home to deliver the news that their father had passed away. In that first moment of shock what went through your mind? A lot of things. I was really sad. But it wasn't the first time Juan and his eight brothers and sisters had gotten devastating news, their mother Margo died suddenly just months earlier. With both parents gone, the oldest sister 29-year-old Marlene torres jumped in. When your mother passes, okay, you're the oldest, take the responsibility but when he passed away all of us were lost. Overnight the single mother of two took in 11-year-old Juan, 15-year-old Raymond and 17-year-old angel and 19-year-old Beatrice. Not everyone in your position would be like okay I'm adopting four additional kids with my two did you hesitate before making that decision. I didn't. I knew it would be hard. As the country comes to grips with half a million lives lost to the pandemic, families like the Ramirez's are still reeling from the lost, among them, children left orphaned without a parent to help pick up the pieces, often older sibling forced to fill the void. I see myself as a parent because I'm working and focused on what needs to get done at home. At 19 Juan Martinez has been parenting his younger siblings for six months his final promise to his mom before she passed away from covid. I told her I would keep the family together and raise my siblings to be okay. Like Juan, Marlene says keeping her family in tact is a gift to her parents. I may be young age, whatever the case, but eem going to try to get through it and help them out, end of the day it's not for me, it's for them. The future of her young ersister Beatrice it now forever changed. We're looking at more than half a million Americans who lost their lives to covid what has covid taken from your family? Our past life, I have love for siblings every day but the love of a parent a a lot different that's what they robbed us of. Her mother visited in Mexico a mother who worked two jobs, day shift as a crossing guard and nice shift at panera bread. She would bring stuff from here to give to people in Mexico. What kind of stuff? Like clothes and shoes, stuff we had outgrown to give to friends. Your mom had a big heart. Yeah. But then it gave out. On the same day she was supposed to return home she suffered a fatal heart attack at just 43 years old. Their heartbroken father Ramon suddenly alone to care for his kids, the rock of the family, they say, with a gentle heart. My dad looked very serious but if you got to know him he'd be very funny or very sweet. Same with my mom. He was a hard-working person. Ramon work in construction, a job deemed essential as the pandemic raged on. I feel that's one of the reason he had covid. When did you know your dad was in trouble? He wasn't feeling well, we all the weren't feeling well, you know, we were starting to get a little worried. You don't know what it's like until it happens to you. Covid quickly tore through their crowded household. How bad was it for your dad though? Even when he was getting a little sick he felt he didn't do -- he always came into my room to give me hand-squeezed Orange juice, he brought me food, tea, he did everything for me, so when I found out he was sick I tried to do the same thing, hand-squeezed the Orange juice but there was a time you could just tell he wasn't getting any better. He was just getting worse. I understand you tried to talk him into going to the hospital. Yeah he didn't want the to Why didn't he want to go? He didn't want to leave us. He didn't want to leave you alone, not just that day but -- -- In general, yeah. He actually talked to me before hand already thinking he was going to pass away. What did he say? He said, he's like, I don't know if I'm going to make it. I'm like, don't talk like that. Don't talk like that. You're going to do it. You're strong. I know you are. I need you. Like, I remember telling him that specifically, I need you -- you can't -- I was like, you can't do this to us, like, don't say that, don't give up now. And then he came to sit down next to me but he didn't want to go near us, he didn't want us to get sick, but I was already sick, he's like, no, don't touch me, I'm like, I don't care, so I went and hugged him and I was like, I love you. And then I was telling my mom, please don't take him, not yet, like, it's too early, mom, please give me the strength, if you see him, if you could see him while he's asleep just tell him to stay with us. Make him stay. The coughing continued. It was getting harder and harder for him to breathe. I called my sister, like, what do I do, he doesn't want to go. He's just getting worse. She's like just call the ambulance, just tell them. It was like you were watching him fade away in front of you. Yeah that was tough. After six days in the hospital Ramon passed away at the age of 39, the virus claiming his life and his family's opportunity to bury him with dignity. There wasn't even a funeral. When they came out with my dad, he was in a bag, it wasn't the way I wanted it to be. He deserved better than that. He deserved better than to die by himself. Across the country, in palm Dale, California, where the Latino community was hardest hit by covid, want Martinez shares that pain, his mother Brenda came down with covid last summer. She was in the hospital, in the regular covid unit for a while. I actually witnessed them giving her cpr in the end. She pass in August at just 43, her six children left behind. In the blink of an eye this 19-year-old became the single parent to four of his younger siblings. It just hit me hard but I just said all right I got to do what a parent does, you know, I started buying calendars, writing stuff down, taking all these phone calls to doctors, teachers. His two-year-old brother now living with his biological father, keenly aware of the financial challenges that lay ahead, Juan who works as a security guard went searching for help, turning to go fund me, writing my goal is to get a permanent home for my siblings and further their education by attending college. Now movie nights and silly moments give way of glimpses of normalcy but Juan says this tragic loss has divided his extended family, some worried about a teenager becoming a guardian to his younger siblings. I know I'd be the best guardian for them, one, I'm their older brother, two, I will teach them the right path and show them you got to work hard for the things you want in life. And Marlow Marlene is determined to do the same, whatever it takes. You're working. This is financially a huge strain, I'm sure. It is, it is. We've been grateful to people because we have go fund me account that we had to make and out of that I'm trying to stretch that money as much because I know they will need some type of support later on. When you guys look into the future what hopes and dreams do you have? To be an electrician. One of my mom's dreams she set for me. I'm in stem school and my pathway is aerospace engineering. Their dreams for the future fueled by memories from the What kinds of things did your dad teach you, Juan? I didn't really know how to tie my shoe that's well, he taught me a new way. And when I was young, I made a song with him. A song? What was it. A love song. A love song? I don't know how to say. It makes you sad to think about it. Is. Their loss is unfathomable but their family tie is unbreakable. When I go to meet my mom in the future I'm going to be like, you know what, I tried to do my best, I tried to raise them and be there for them because it's not easy. It's hard. They're looking at us right now, they're smiling.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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