British Columbia·Video

After 66 years together, 'lovebirds' die of COVID-19 one hour apart

A beloved couple married 66 years, died in separate hospitals last Sunday, split apart in their final days by COVID-19.

Grandmother's last words were ‘I love you,' says granddaughter Saliya Remtulla

Saliya Remtulla with her sister's dog Penny. She's flown into Vancouver this week to say her final goodbyes to her beloved grandparents who both died Dec. 6 after contracting COVID-19. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A beloved couple married 66 years died in separate B.C. hospitals last Sunday, split apart in their final days by COVID-19.

Their eldest granddaughter described their loss as a "bittersweet" in the darkness of COVID-19, adding the "lovebirds" can now reunite.

"[My grandmother's] last words to us were 'I love you' via FaceTime to all her grandkids," said Saliya Remtulla, who lives in Toronto.

Shah-Sultan Remtulla, 85, died at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, B.C. on Dec. 6. Her husband, Hassanali Remtulla, 91, died about an hour later at the Burnaby Hospital.

Shah-Sultan and Hassanali Remtulla were married 66 years. (Submitted by family)

"She would always tell me, 'He wasn't my only pick. I had so many options,' when he would be annoying her. But I know, deep down, she had a blessed life with him," said Remtulla.

Her grandparents met in East Africa in Tanzania and married when Shah-Sultan was 18. They had three sons.

Hassanali Remtulla had success running an agricultural company that sold farming equipment in Iringa, Tanzania, and eventually they immigrated to Canada, settling in Burnaby, B.C. in the 1990s.

"He was a shrewd businessman. It was kind of like the Home Depot of our area," said Remtulla.

She said her grandfather knew success and pain. He'd survived three brain tumours and one son's suicide. And he prized his grandchildren, their achievements and education above all, she said.

Hassanali and Shah-Sultan Remtulla never missed a grandchild's graduation. Here they stand proudly with Aryana Remtulla. (Submitted by Remtulla family)

For the past 11 years, the couple split time between Vancouver and Toronto to be with their sons' families.

"They were always present in our lives," Remtulla said.

Typically at this time of year, they'd be celebrating, exchanging gifts and enjoying her rich cakes made with dates and nuts.

The five grandchildren often laughed about their grandmother's habit of writing them "old school" letters full of prayers and affirmations. 

"Looking back now, I want to frame every single one," Remtulla said.

WATCH: Shah-Sultan Remtulla played with her granddaughter's dog just weeks before she died of COVID-19:

Shah-Sultan Remtulla, 85, with her granddaughter's dog just weeks before she died of COVID-19

1 year ago
Duration 0:20
Grandmother Shah-Sultan Remtulla greets her granddaughter's dog Penny just weeks before the 84-year-old grandmother died of COVID-19 on Dec. 6 — the day her 91-year-old husband also died of the same disease. They were being treated in different hospitals.

Three weeks ago, Shah-Sultan Remtulla complained of stomach pain. A test revealed COVID-19.

Within days, her husband also tested positive. He lost his sense of smell and was struggling to breathe. Royal Columbian Hospital was too crowded, so he was admitted to a different ICU in Burnaby.

A number of family members called daily from both Toronto and Vancouver. COVID-19 rules prevented any of them from visiting her in the hospital. 

Couple died about an hour apart

"I think the nurses were annoyed with us always trying to call but she was so dear to us," said Remtulla. 

The night her grandmother died the family had a two-and-a-half hour video call with her. 

"We told her we are all here — and we will hold onto your legacy. We told her if she was tired, she could just stop fighting."

Her grandmother fell asleep and died 20 minutes after her family hung up. The family headed to the Burnaby hospital to check on her husband. He died not long after they arrived.

"It was as if he knew. He was just a true gentleman, waiting for her and making sure she wasn't alone."

Shah-Sultan Remtulla, 85,  died in a New Westminster hospital on Dec. 6 about an hour before her 91-year-old husband Hassanali Remtulla died in a Burnaby hospital. They both had tested positive for COVID-19. (The Remtulla family)


Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist.