MANHATTAN (WABC) -- The first recorded COVID death of a New York City resident happened three years ago, and now relatives of those who died in the early days are speaking out.
Ed Koenig still remembers the first time he met the love of his life: It was 1987 after a Pride march.
"I was supposed to meet somebody there and I got stood up and while I was there, I remember this guy with a grin from ear to ear started talking to me and it was Jody, and we were never apart a day after that," Koenig said.
Koenig stood by him after he was diagnosed with MS and for 33 years they were inseparable -- until the pandemic.
Around the first Easter after the city shut down, Jody Settle came down with a fever and about a week later he died.
"I was one of the lucky ones, they actually let me go see him for a half an hour," Koenig said. "He was in a coma at the time. I know how much he fought against the MS. And I remember the last thing I said to him was, I said 'you fought your whole life,' I said 'maybe now you can let go and relax.'"
Within 10 minutes of returning from the hospital, he got the call that Jody was gone.
"I think he waited for me to come say goodbye," Koenig said.
Koenig was already isolated and now he was alone.
But he found a support group called COVID Survivors for Change with others who lost loved ones.
"In COVID we found that families became strangers and strangers became family, and these people are my family," he said.
Chris Kocher is the group's founder and there are thousands of members across the country. They have weekly Zooms with mental health professionals who specialize in grief, trauma and loss.
Meanwhile Koenig and several others in the support group turned their pain into purpose.
More than 310,000 American children lost a parent or caregiver to COVID. So they have been lobbying Albany for what has been dubbed baby bonds and college scholarships for the children.
"In New York State alone it's 15,000," Kocher said. "And what we know about that number too, it's disproportionally children of color and disproportionately children of frontline workers, MTA workers, grocery store workers, nurses, doctors, everyone who kept the city running in those early days."
Meanwhile Koenig hopes Jody would be proud.
"He knew that I would stand up for him, so I hope that he knows I'm still standing up for him now."