Ask Lucia DeClerck how she lived to be 105 and she will respond quickly.
“Prayer. Prayer. Prayer,” she suggests. “One step at a time. No junk food.
But surviving the coronavirus, she said, may also have something to do with another staple: the nine golden gin-soaked raisins that she has eaten each morning for most of her life.
“Fill a jar,” she explained. “Nine raisins a day after nine days of rest.”
Her children and grandchildren remember the ritual as one of Ms. DeClerck’s endearing lifestyle habits, such as drinking aloe juice straight from the container and brushing your teeth with baking soda. (It worked, too: She didn’t have cavities until she was 99, relatives said.)
“We just think, ‘Grandma, what are you doing? You’re crazy, ”said her 53-year-old granddaughter Shawn Laws O’Neil of Los Angeles. “Now the laughter is upon us. She has beaten everything that comes her way.
It’s a long list. Born in 1916 in Hawaii to parents from Guatemala and Spain, she lived through the Spanish flu, two world wars and the deaths of three husbands and a son.
She moved to Wyoming, California and back to Hawaii before finally arriving in New Jersey, where she lived with her eldest son. After turning 90, she moved to an adult community in Manahawkin, NJ, along the Jersey Shore, where she remained active until she was injured in a fall approximately four years.
“She’s just the epitome of persistence,” Ms. O’Neil said. “His mind is so sharp. She will remember things when I was a kid that I don’t even remember.
Ms DeClerck, the oldest resident of her South Jersey nursing home, learned she contracted the virus on her 105th birthday, January 25, the day after she received her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine -BioNTech, according to Michael Neiman, the administrator of the house.
At first she said she was scared. She didn’t like being isolated and she missed the daily chatter of the caregiver parade at Mystic Meadows Rehabilitation and Nursing, a 120-bed facility in Little Egg Harbor.
She showed few symptoms, Mr Neiman said. And within two weeks, she was back in her room, holding her rosary and wearing her sunglasses and knitted hat.
To her two surviving sons, five grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and 11 great-great-grandchildren, who call her Grandmother Lucia, she has a new nickname, Ms O’Neil said: ” The 105-year-old badass who kicked Covid out. “
On Monday, she received a shout from Governor Philip D. Murphy, who described a phone call with her during a press briefing on the coronavirus. “What an uplifting conversation,” the governor said.
Ms DeClerck’s family gathered in January 2020 at Mystic Meadows to celebrate her 104th birthday before the start of the pandemic. When they learned she had contracted the virus, they prepared for the worst.
“We were very worried,” said his son, Phillip Laws, 78.
“But she has incredible tenacity,” he added. “And she has this rosary – all the time.
A devout Catholic, Ms. DeClerck led the weekly rosary prayers at the retirement home and, before the pandemic, was part of the weekly mass.
She raised three sons and ran a convenience store for decades with her first husband, Henry Laws Jr., in Los Angeles. She married two more times after returning to Hawaii, where she worked as a home health aide and hosted her grandchildren for summer visits.
Ms DeClerck is one of 62 residents of Mystic Meadows who contracted the virus; four patients have died, three of whom were receiving palliative care, Mr Neiman said.
“We’re as careful as we can get,” he said, “but it finds a way to squeeze in.”
In January, residents were being tested twice a week, and a rapid test carried out the last week of the month showed Ms DeClerck had contracted the virus.
“At first she was a little worried, a little scared, but she said, ‘God will protect me,’” Mr. Neiman said.
She had also been vaccinated, which likely helped her recovery. The first studies of the British mass inoculation program showed on Monday that even a dose of the vaccine can help reduce hospitalizations linked to the coronavirus.
Ms DeClerck is not the oldest person to beat the virus.
The oldest known resident of Europe, Sister André, contracted the virus at 116 years old. She celebrated her 117th birthday with a glass of champagne earlier this month at a retirement home in Toulon, a city in south-eastern France.
Like Sister André, Mrs. DeClerck may be ready for a toast.
But that will likely involve some gin and a handful of golden raisins.
His family followed suit. “Now we all hurry and buy mason jars and yellow raisins and try to catch up,” Ms. O’Neil said.