Couple married 62 years die together
By JOSH FARLEY
Death, like everything in their 62-year marriage, was something the Mosers faced together.
Eighty-four-year-old Robert, whose health had declined steadily in recent years, always expected to go first. His 80-year-old wife, Darlene, had been his steady caretaker at the Seatter Road home they built with their own hands.
That is, until December, when a cancer gave her precious few weeks of life to live.
When Robert learned Darlene was terminally ill, he quickly grumbled: “I’m terminal, too.”
The claim drew scoffs from his family. But he was serious.
And as his wife lay beside him in her last moments on Jan. 23, Robert, too, began to die, to the amazement of his family and hospice caretakers.
Only six hours separated their deaths.
It was a bittersweet moment for the couple’s five children and extended family.
They’d lost their mother and father. But their parents the couple who lived and breathed love for one another, who spooned together every night while watching the news, who even walked to their mailbox in tandem had received their last wish.
“I don’t think you can explain our rejoicing,” said Marie Townsend, 55, their second daughter. “They ebbed and flowed together. They were truly one. And when she died, half of him died.”
Like many couples of their generation whose marriages spanned half centuries, their deaths were close together. But in the words of Amy Getter, Kitsap Hospice’s director of clinical services, the Mosers’ case is “pretty remarkable.”
“Mr. Moser was adamant that they’d spoken for years about going together,” Getter said. “That was sort of the plan.”
Their story of love and long-term devotion showcases an aspect of humanity that even modern science has a hard time explaining: that sometimes strength of will decides whether we live or die.
“I really believe it’s one of the mysteries of life and death,” Getter said. “We don’t know quite how it happens.”
University of Arkansas at Little Rock professor Terry Trevino-Richard once studied the phenomenon, in a research article titled “Death Timing Among Deceased Married Couples in a Southern Cemetery.”
“There is ample evidence that individuals may subconsciously or deliberately hasten or postpone their own death by aiming towards a psychologically important date,” he wrote.
Simply put by Diana Moser, the couple’s oldest daughter: “He could not live without her.”
Robert Moser lived by a simple mantra, according to his son, Walt: “Happy wife, happy life.”
An electrician by trade, his family said he was a straight shooter, an ethical man who never missed a day of work in his life.
Robert was an aviation technician in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
He’d met Darlene briefly through their families before the war. When Robert returned, the family said he exclaimed, “Whoa, you grew up” to his bride-to-be.
Three months later, they were married.
Their chemistry was magical, the family said. They got up from bed together and always waited for the other to get in bed at night. Mornings over coffee together developed a mutual plan of attack for the day. Darlene always made sure Robert’s lunch was packed and clothes folded for him to wear.
“It was an idyllic life,” Townsend said. “We weren’t rich, we weren’t poor. I describe it as a lot like ‘Leave it to Beaver.'”
Darlene was the eternal optimist, always keeping the family upbeat.
“She was the most positive and outgoing person,” Townsend said. “The cup was always half full.”
The Mosers had brushes with death before Robert a heart attack in 1982 and Darlene in 1947 when birthing their first child, Diana.
Excited at the prospect of raising children, the Mosers very nearly had none after Diana became stuck in the birth canal. Diana was “tossed aside” when she emerged, as doctors concentrated on saving Darlene Moser’s life. Amazingly, both survived, though doctors told the new mother her chances of living through another childbirth were slim.
The Mosers eventually had nine children, and it’s safe to say they proved their doctor wrong.
“They told me they wanted to have a family so bad, they would never give up,” Walt Moser said.
They didn’t come without tragedy, however. Two children died before being born, and one died after being alive one day.
Yet another, Jackie, was killed as a kindergartener after being struck by a motorcycle.
But another five Diana, Marie, and Walt, who live in California; Robin, of Bonney Lake; and Marlene, of Bainbridge Island grew up under their care.
Robert’s first brush with death came in California. Darlene was headed out to her bowling league, but, as she told her sons and daughters, something didn’t feel right. Robert, down for a nap, was blue when she found him.
A Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy, who had stayed home from work that day, answered Darlene’s screams for help from her front yard. He had no vital signs, but the deputy’s CPR saved his life, the family said.
“Mr. Tough got more sentimental,” after that, Townsend said.
He was given 10 years to live after the 1982 attack, the family said.
Robert suffered strokes, kidney troubles, congestive heart failure and other ailments following, but he never complained.
“I’m fine,” he’d always say.
Save for the framing, their Kingston home of their last 17 years was almost entirely built with their hands. Darlene drew up the blueprints; Robert did the heavy lifting.
In retirement, they never left each other’s sides. If a check needed depositing, they went to the bank together. Grocery shopping was done in tandem. The pair even ventured to the mailbox together everyday unless one was too ill to do so.
They spooned on the couch as long as their bodies would let them.
The biggest shock came when Darlene was found to have a cancer growth. On Dec. 23, she went into the hospital, and learned the growth was terminal. She refused to be at the hospital for Christmas, however, and went home to be with Robert against doctor’s orders.
It was then Robert began to say that he, too, was terminally ill. Kitsap Hospice came and cared for the couple.
Robert even brought up Washington’s recently approved assisted suicide law, which goes into effect March 4.
“Sign me up,” he told the hospice staff, and even his own doctor.
Before their deaths, they also knew their family was healthy and happy, including one of their youngest daughters, Marlene, who lives on Bainbridge. Though she’d fought breast cancer, she now had a clean bill of heath.
The family had prayed for her to get better, and Robert added his special plea: To die with his wife.
In the days before their deaths, hospice had a special bed put into the couple’s bedroom, where youthful pictures of Robert and Darlene hang above their respective bedsides. Robert, in their own bed, held her hand tight as she began to die.
At 2:45 a.m. Jan. 23, she went. The sisters, Diana and Marie, delivered the news to Robert. There were many tears, Diana recalled.
“Are you OK,” Diana asked him. And for the first time their oldest daughter ever remembers, he said in his last word: “No.”
Not long after, the nurse came to check on Robert. Astonishingly, his vital signs began to fail. His breathing became broken. He was actively dying, the nurse told the family. There were no drugs or methods he’d used to quicken death; it just began to happen.
They gave him two days to live, tops. Instead, he joined his wife in death only six hours after hers.
Robert and Darlene, whose services were held Thursday, will be buried in the same way they lived their lives together.
In the same casket.
Information from: Kitsap Sun, http://www.kitsapsun.com/