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True Love to the End

(WHL / Getty Images)

By: ssegal

Published: 1 year ago

The marriages we frequently think of as “great romances” are the ones that make it into the history books: Queen Elizabeth and Prince Albert, Pierre and Marie Curie, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. But fame has nothing to do with how great a couple’s love may be, and the obituary page proves it.

Every day, we see obituaries in which families pay quiet tribute to their dear departed ones’ beautiful relationships. These real-life love stories frequently leap out colorfully from the dry details around them, making it clear that of all the accomplishments to be found in a person’s life story, partnering in togetherness is one of the most precious.

Proposal stories are among the most popular romantic anecdotes we see in obituaries, like this one from a Texas couple: “While training in Rhode Island, Bill met the love of his life, Lois Ann, on a blind date set up by her sister and brother-in-law. They went to a casino, and Bill said he knew Lois was ‘the one’ when she spent all of his nickels on the slot machines. The day he was to deploy overseas to fight in WWII, Bill snuck off post, climbing through a hole in the fence, and took a train to Washington, D.C. where Lois was staying with friends. He proposed to her with ‘the biggest diamond he could afford’ and crawled back through the fence just as the bus was loading up to leave.”

An L.A. Times obituary took note of one couple whose engagement began in the midst of an astronomical event: “For decades, Thornbury chased solar eclipses, traveling the world to witness the moment when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth. In Mongolia in 1997, during a total solar eclipse of the sun, he proposed to his wife, Angie, who saw a 'diamond-ring' even though it was snowed in. According to Dr. Ed Krupp, Director of the Griffith Park Observatory who led the expedition, Thornbury was the first person to ever propose to someone during totality.”

Sometimes the proposals are less perfectly timed, as with this Colorado couple: “Tom met Ursula, the love of his life, in September 1971 at a dance… Tom proposed almost six years later during a concert at Sloan's Lake. ‘He proposed when the cannon fired, and I didn't hear what he said, so he had to ask me a second time.’ That ‘shotgun proposal’ led to their wedding on October 16, 1977 at Peaceful Valley Lodge, Colorado in the chapel built in memorial to her father.”

And sometimes, like in this Washington Post obituary, a couple’s memories show that they really take their “for better or for worse” vows extremely seriously: “Among her hobbies were traveling and golf... She also enjoyed riding horses, which she was doing when her future husband proposed to her, after she had fallen from the horse.”

Some couples, the obits make clear, truly felt they were always destined to be together. Take this recent story from Schenectady, N.Y.’s Daily Gazette: “He miraculously survived all of the German death camps and was among those liberated by the Soviet Army in May 1945. After being freed, Mr. Fischer walked home to Brno, barefoot… [and] studied mechanical engineering in Czechoslovakia, earning a college degree. He met Gertrude Adler, who was born in Czechoslovakia, and was also a survivor of the German camps, in 1948. He proposed to her four days later.”

This Florida couple exemplifies what Legacy.com has dubbed “connected heart syndrome,” the tendency of some loving spouses to die quickly after their partner does: “Jonathan Grant Jefferies, 84, and Willadine Pierce Jefferies, 83, were a rare couple. Married 61 years, they died within days of one another. John Jefferies went to be with the Lord on Nov 23, 2016. Two days later, Willadine entered hospice and died on Nov. 29, 2016. The couple were married on Nov. 21, 1955 at First Baptist Church of Palmetto. Their courtship began as John recovered from breaking his back while serving in the U.S Navy as a mechanic. Willadine visited him in the VA hospital and admired John's strength, perseverance and attitude. To honor her weekly treks across Tampa Bay to the hospital, John proposed to her at the top of the Skyway Bridge.”

Some couples’ stories are true whirlwind fairytales, like this big-city courtship documented in the Argus Leader: “Eventually, Chicago was calling, so Esther and Gladys took a train to the City with Big Shoulders and on the way there, Esther talked with the gentlemen sitting behind her, who turned out to be Herb Bowden. They hit the dance floor at the Aragon Ballroom, fell for each other, Herb proposed to Esther in the coal mine at the Museum of Science and Industry, and they had a royal Chicago wedding at the Justice of the Peace with two people in attendance.”

Perhaps most poignantly of all, we are reminded that it’s never too late to fall in love and share a life. “After Lester died, Doris was on her own for many years until she met Robert McCulloch, a long-time Bozeman resident who also spent his winters in the same Mesa trailer court. Robert, age 85, proposed to Doris, 82, and they married. They spent two and a half precious years together before Robert died.”