Devoted: Tragic John Hodgkiss, 82, and wife Betty, 79, reached out to clasp on to each other as they lay dying in the front seats of their car
They just couldn’t be apart for very long
Don and Martha Wood of Clintonville were each 88 years old when they died: first Martha, then Don, five days later.
By Rita Price
The Columbus Dispatch Thursday September 29, 2011 10:39 AM
Their eyes first met when they were 14 years old.
On that January day in 1937, Don Wood left his Clintonville home at the end of the old Columbus trolley line and set out for dance class. Martha Adams, who had just celebrated her birthday, put on her favorite party dress and did the same.
The teenage strangers walked opposite directions toward a mutual destination and wound up sharing a life.
Their oldest son, Tom, said the bond proved just as strong as it was instantaneous.
“They were an item, as they say, for 74 years.”
Martha, 88, died in her sleep on Sept. 17; Don, also 88, followed five days later. The course of events surprised no one in their family or at First Community Village, the Upper Arlington residential center and nursing home where they lived.
Even dementia and Alzheimer’s — she had the diagnosis; he didn’t but had similar symptoms — couldn’t distance them.
Toward the end, after each needed a hospital bed, Tom said he received worrisome calls that his mother had fallen at night. He and his brothers hired extra help to keep watch.
The next phone call triggered goose bumps and smiles, said Tom, who lives in Maine.
“The extra help said, ‘Your mom didn’t fall out of bed. She got up and lay down on the floor so that she could hold your father’s hand.’ ”
The beds were quickly pushed together.
“That way they could reach over and touch,” said Marilyn Gordon of First Community. “They were that connected. And they were an inspiration to us all.”
Readers of newspaper obituaries and grave markers have long noticed that the dates of death for some elderly couples are strangely proximate. Researchers say the phenomenon, while fodder for romantic legend, also seems rooted in the science of love.
In other words, people accustomed to living as halves of a whole might not be able, or want, to go it alone. One California researcher even found that the heartbeats of some longtime couples fell into sync as they slept beside each other.
Such mind-body equations aren’t designed for subtraction.
Gordon said First Community residents and staff members could see that the Woods were a pair and meant to stay that way.
“They were soul mates,” she said. “They would be seen sitting together, holding hands, always looking into each other’s eyes whenever music played.”
Still, Tom said, he and his brothers, Steve and Dan, don’t remember their parents’ 68-year marriage as especially doting. Just steady and happy.
Don, a World War II veteran, was an industrial-design professor at Ohio State University. Martha, an avid camper, became a teacher and administrator at Columbus Academy.
Their big Clintonville house was full of art — Don also was a potter — and laughter, with visitors welcome any time. “It was always a happenin’ place,” Tom said.
Don and Martha expected their sons to tend three “themes” of knowledge: good reading and writing skills, sound money management, and a broad understanding of the environment, Tom said.
Apparently it clicked, because Dan is with the Christian Science Monitor on the West Coast, Steve works in public finance in New Jersey, and Tom is a senior planner for the Maine Forest Service.
When they cleaned out the family home, the brothers found that their mother had kept many diaries and journals. Her stories, along with their father’s ceramics, are nothing short of “ treasure,” Tom said.
A memorial service is planned for the couple on Oct. 28. “We’re mostly going to celebrate,” Tom said.
Don and Martha would like that, the family thinks. From the day they met up at dance class, they knew they were lucky.
Til’ death do us part… together’: Couple married for 65 years die within hours of each other holding hands
Together forever: On December 15th, Mrs Vevea suffered a heart attack followed shortly by her husband. Mr Clifford died before his wife as they held hands a final time at Valley Eldercare Center
Devoted couple die within hours of each other on eve of their 66th anniversary
Relatives of an Ohio couple who died at a nursing home 11 hours apart on the same day say their love story’s ending reflects their devotion over 65 years of marriage. Harold J ‘Doc’ Knapke, 91, and Ruth L Knapke, 89, died in their shared room at Versailles Health Care Center on August 11, days before their 66th anniversary. Their daughters say they believe their father willed himself to stay with his wife despite failing health until they could take the next step in their journey together. He went first; she followed.