COVID-19 continues to devastate families and communities across the United States and the world, leaving one Alabama woman and her family struggling to create a new normal in the face of unspeakable tragedy.

Francesca McCall, 40, of Birmingham, Alabama, is raising 12 children after both her sister, Chantale McCall, 35, and her brother-in-law, Lance Martin, 40, both died of COVID-19 at University of Alabama at Birmingham approximately one month apart, AL.com reports. Chantale passed away two weeks after being airlifted from her home in Selma. Martin passed away on his late wife’s birthday.

“She was in the healthcare field and she did all the precautions,” Francesca McCall told WSFA.com. “She wore the mask. She wore the gloves. She was very very careful, so we have no idea how she came into contact.”

It was never a question for McCall what she had to do.

A single, working mother, she is currently raising her seven biological children, as well as her sister’s five children—all ranging in age from 2 to 17.

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“We are very close,” McCall said of her and sister. “We always used to have discussions like, ‘if anything happened to any of us,’ we knew that we wouldn’t want our children to be separated. When [UAB Hospital] called us up there, I told her that she wouldn’t have to worry. I would raise her kids and take care of them like my own.”

According to McCall, her sister’s children are working through their grieve while also dealing with their own fears of contracting COVID-19.

“We’re doing OK,” she said. “They have their moments at times, processing everything.”

Alabama, McCall children
The McCall family

A local church has stepped in to offer the family support.

“My daughter and I wanted to do something special for the holidays for the children who lost their parents to COVID-19,” Carla McDonald of West End Purity Holiness Church of God said. “Even with the emotions that she has gone through raising 12 children, [Francesca McCall] needs everlasting, everyday help, and she’s not the type of person to ask for anything.”

For Francesca McCall, it’s still a struggle to believe her beloved sister is gone.

“It just seems like it’s not real,” she said. “We are just expecting her to come back.”

A GoFundMe for the McCall family has so far raised $47,940.

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