Antonio and Palma DiRenzo had watched out for 93-year-old Celeste Kreitzer for many years.
When Palma cooked Sunday dinner, she would take a portion over to her friend's house. They often checked up on her, bought her gifts at Christmas. They went to her Oakwood Drive home when Celeste was unable to come to their hair salon on Route 9. Celeste had no children and no family close by.
On Oct. 29, 2012, they took care of her for the last time.
Superstorm Sandy was already barreling into Ocean County when the couple went to check on her. Palma brought some Italian wedding soup for their friend. But their mission was to get Celeste out of the house before the brunt of the storm came.
Antonio was alarmed when they arrived. The Forked River had already risen over her bulkhead and into the yard. The wind was roaring and they were pelted by driving rain.
"We knew the storm was coming," he said. "It was raining very bad. We told Celeste, 'Come to our house. You stay with us."
But Celeste was a very independent woman, even at her age.
"She would not move out of the house," Antonio recalled. "She was by herself, but she didn't want to move."
They begged her to leave.
"I started crying," Palma said. "I said, 'Celeste, come with us.' " She said if that was the way she had to go, that's the way she has to go."
After trying for some time to convince Celeste to leave, the couple gave up. In retrospect, Antonio wishes he had picked her up bodily and put her in the car.
They called the house the next day. No answer. They called her friend Leo, who often drove Celeste to doctor visits and shopped for food for her. Leo had gone to the house after the Direnzos left to try and convince her to leave. She refused.
Leo went back the morning after the storm. The house had taken in water. Celeste was dead.
"He said, 'Palma, Celeste has died,'" she recalled. "The water went into her house. I felt so sick. "
Celeste Kreitzer was one of four Ocean County residents who died during the monster storm, according to the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office.
And the DiRenzo family still mourns the loss of her friend. Palma had a mass said for Celeste at St. Pius R.C. Church in Lacey Township. They still haven't forgotten that terrible day when Sandy hit.
"When I remember, I feel sick," Palma said.
The Ocean County Medical Examiner's Office ruled that the elderly woman died of hypothermia.