Doing Family Right

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important relationships.

Marriage: Til Death Do Us Part

What a Way to Go

It was a living reflection of the famous touching movie “The Notebook”. Really no different than the characters that Gena Rowlands and James Garner played in the 2004 release of that compelling love story, Leona and Ernie, faithful and true lovers, died of natural causes the same day after 66 years of marriage. Unbelievable! (Link to watch the Notebook trailer – )

Their life story isn’t unique from most other vintage couples living in the Pacific Northwest but their departure is so rare. Leona had been suffering for some years with strokes and dementia and her memory had slipped significantly. Ernie, a robust 90 year old, visited her daily in a senior’s care facility not being phased at all by the limits of her failing memory in true “notebook” fashion. Ernie took a tumble one day this Fall and broke his hip putting him in the hospital for a hip surgery. Complications from the required operation resulted in his death a few days later at 8:40 am. Leona died at 11:49 am, just 3 hours after Ernie. No, they didn’t die in each others arms like the Hollywood version, but they did actually breathe their last breath the same day and she didn’t even know he had gone before her.

Their memorial was a celebration – not the typical somber life closure. I had been to a double funeral before but it was with family members who had been in a car accident. But with 2 life-long lovers passing away this way, I can’t deny it got me thinking. I sat through the memorial with my better half, fully enjoying the accolades from friends and family giving testimony of years of an authentic loving friendship, a life-long faithfulness and an anchoring faith. Their finale was filled with such richness, such love and such hope.

On our drive home, Donalyn, my sweetheart of 36 years of marriage, agreed with me, “What a Way to Go”. We talked how neither would have to grieve the tragic loss of his or her marital soul mate if we were fortunate enough to go at the same time like this couple. Even their kids commented on how happy they were for their parents as hard it was to get over the loss of both parents at once. We concluded that it would be so ideal and our preference if the Good Lord would grace us as well with the same day of departing. Nice last day…together.

We decided this because grieving the death of a spouse is a hard thing. We’ve seen the weight of it when my mother died leaving my Dad alone after 57 years of closeness in a great marriage. We watched his anguishing pain of separation that a heart goes through as a life-long companion of over half a century passes away. As brave as my Dad was, the loss was excruciating.

As hard as losing a spouse is, it’s in all of our futures. Death is the ultimate statistic – one out of one people die. It’s how you live and love that really matters. Dying the same day is even more magnified when you look at how Ernie and Leona got to 66 years of marriage. Here’s what I observed about life and love and leaving this world.

First of all, if we live and love well, we can die well. Our focus needs to be to leave a host of people in our wake – as well as at our wake I guess – usually called family, that have been affected by our waves of encouragement and care. To die with unfinished business like so many do is a relational torture we want to avoid. To love without condition and live without resent is to die without regrets. Conclusion: Treat the people you love the best. Ernie and Leona are said to have had that kind of loving friendship and caring lives.

Secondly, the one thing better than young love is old love. I call it love with history! One day when locked in a loving face to face moment, my babe, referring to her deepening laugh lines, asked “do my wrinkles bother you?” I said, “of course not, they are beautiful reminders of how long I have loved you.” (It doesn’t hurt either that without my reading glasses, I can’t see them anyway. Part of God’s plan I’m sure). A faithful love is a long-lasting love; 66 years worked for Ernie and Leona, 57 for my parents, 36 and counting for us. We want the second half of our marriage to be the best half. You should too.

Finally, faith still anchors many families; it did for Ernie and Leona. Nothing reminds us of the frailty of life as much as the finality of death. There is nothing we can do to stop it – delay it some, maybe – but avoid it, no. I have witnessed it many times. Toward the end of life, people are looking for answers beyond themselves. Faith brings hope that brought peace to these two. Their faith helped them live and love well; it also helped them to suffer and die well. Regardless of your spiritual tradition, remember, “These three remain, faith, hope and love – but the greatest of these is love.” Get your anchor to improve the way you go.

By the way, if you are looking for a good date night with your sweetheart– rent the movie “The Notebook” and enjoy it again. Count on the feeling, “what a way to go.”

© Dr. Dave Currie, November 2010