The small passenger plane was bouncing wildly in the turbulence above the Grand Canyon, and a few of the passengers screamed. Sandy deBlecourt, however, was giddy.
“If it flips over, then I’ll be scared!” her then-husband, Lou, remembered her shouting. “She was actually enjoying it.”
The 61-year-old former assisted-living facility administrator, whose sharp sense of humor and tendency to speak her mind could result in any room erupting in laughter, was diagnosed March 29 with the new coronavirus in the outbreak at the Pleasant View Nursing Home in Mount Airy, said her only daughter, Jessica Friedman.
The family had already been reeling from her lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) diagnoses two weeks earlier, Mrs. Friedman said. Doctors had told them she would have only about seven months to a year left to live.
One day after she tested positive for COVID-19, the global pandemic that has infected more than a million people worldwide, Ms. deBlecourt was taken to Frederick Memorial Hospital, where she died March 30, her daughter said.
“She was gone within a little over 24 hours of us finding out that she had it,” Mrs. Friedman said.
Her family had known she wouldn’t live long if she contracted the acute respiratory disease.
“I had them take her off the ventilator," her daughter said. "She wasn’t going to make it. I know Mom would’ve way rather made sure the ventilator was available for someone else to be saved.”
The former Sandra Lee Shifflett was born Oct. 2, 1958, to Maynard Shifflett, who worked at Procter & Gamble, and the former Frances Woodward, a caretaker. She was raised on a farm in Woodbine by her father and her grandparents, the late Russell and Myrtle Shifflett.
She attended South Carroll High School and worked for more than a decade at Oakland Manor, an assisted-living facility in Carroll County, where she was hired as a nursing assistant and worked her way up to the role of top administrator before her retirement.
“She was the light in the darkness and the calm in the storm (let’s be honest, sometimes she was the storm)," her family wrote in an online obituary. "Her strength and durability was unbelievable; her wisdom and words understandable; her love and kindness unmatched. Sandy was truly one of a kind.”
A 19-year-old Lou deBlecourt met his future wife when she was working at Ben Gue Antiques in Mount Airy — and he liked her so much he applied to work there, sanding old furniture after she had stripped the varnish from it.
“I literally got a job there just to know her,” he said.
It took him three proposals to get her to agree to marry him, which she finally did in 1989, Mr. deBlecourt said.
“She would say, ‘Ask me again later,’ ” he recalled fondly.
When the couple divorced years later and he moved to Indiana, Mr. deBlecourt said, there were no hard feelings.
“We stayed friends," he said. “Even though the marriage didn’t work out, we never had a harsh word to say about each other. It was just time to move on. ... I’m so glad I went and visited her before I moved.”
Family members recalled her generosity. Ms. deBlecourt, who was recovering from drug addiction, used to allow others who were struggling with addiction to stay, rent-free, at their house in Sykesville in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Mrs. Friedman said.
Lori Harden remembered Ms. deBlecourt — a “wild child” who went through phases of dyeing her hair, piercing her skin and listening to punk rock — drawing the eyes of a pair of ladies, who were obviously talking about her in French, on the Washington Metro one day.
Ms. deBlecourt didn’t flinch, said Ms. Harden, 62, a childhood friend who now lives in Pinnacle, North Carolina.
She looked right at them and asked: “If you have anything to say to me, could you please translate that into English for me?”
“Sandy was herself," Ms. Harden said. "I loved her no matter what color hair she had, what she wore, how many tattoos, how many piercings. She had a good heart.”
She had been living at Pleasant View for about five years, during which time the former assisted-living facility administrator made many friends among the residents and staff, Mrs. Friedman said.
Wearing protective masks, Mrs. Friedman and her husband were able to sit with Ms. deBlecourt for a few hours at the hospital before she died, she said, but that was out of the question for other family members, including Ms. deBlecourt’s 92-year-old father.
“This is a serious virus,” he said. “Don’t think that you can’t get it.”
Mrs. Friedman is urging others to listen to her mother’s story, follow the orders to stay home and practice social distancing, and take whatever other steps they can to keep themselves and others safe and healthy.
“I know you are all tired of feeling trapped at home and are longing for a sense of normalcy," she said. “I, however, will never again have a sense of normalcy. I will never again get to spend holidays or any other days with my mom.
“Do your part to make sure this story doesn’t become yours.”
In addition to her father, daughter and ex-husband, Ms. deBlecourt is survived by her brothers, Larry Shifflett of New Jersey, Perry Shifflett of Virginia and Joseph Lanasa of Baltimore, and close cousins. She was preceded in death by her mother, Frances, and sister, Bonnie Miller.