Couple for 70 years remained together until the end


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A couple of years ago, Eleanor Schilling told her daughter that she could not remember her life before meeting her husband.

At the time, her daughter, Suzanne Rosenberger of Ross, did not think much of the comment.

But on May 23, when Mrs. Schilling, who had dementia, took a bad turn, her husband of 70 years took one look at her and suffered some sort of extreme medical event, losing consciousness. He had lung issues and had broken his hip last Christmas, but Ms. Rosenberger said he was otherwise healthy.

Mrs. Schilling, 91 died the next day. Robert Schilling, 95, passed away the day after that from complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). Both died in the personal care home of the Holy Family Manor in Ross.

"There was never any question, they would always be together," Ms. Rosenberger said, recalling her parents' romance.

Mrs. Schilling was born in Athens, Ohio, before moving to Bellevue, where Mr. Schilling was born. Both attended Bellevue High School, but their difference in age meant that they knew of each other but crossed paths infrequently.

When they met and began dating, however, their attraction was immediate and passionate. Mrs. Schilling's parents did not approve of the relationship, so she ran away from home to Mr. Schilling's Army camp. They married in Alabama in April 1944.

When Mr. Schilling went to Italy to serve in the war, Mrs. Schilling was forced to return to Pittsburgh, where she lived with her husband's parents because her family would not speak to her.

The rift was not mended until Ms. Rosenberger was born, she said.

Mr. Schilling worked at Emerson Electric for more than 30 years before retiring.

In the summers, the family would travel to a home by Conneaut Lake that Mrs. Schilling's family owned. They liked being by water and the lake, Ms. Rosenberger said, and they all enjoyed water-skiing.

Although the Schillings were a loving and romantic couple, Ms. Rosenberger said they had disagreements about some major issues. Her father was a Democrat and a Catholic. Her mother was a Republican and a Presbyterian.

"It was always really interesting on Sundays," Ms. Rosenberger joked, adding that she and her siblings are rather ecumenical. "We see both sides of the story."

In spite of their differences, Ms. Rosenberger said her parents were dramatically drawn to each other.

"I don't think back then couples really discussed issues," Ms. Rosenberger said. "When you're in love, you're just blindly in love."

When Mr. Schilling's family sensed that his wife was close to death, they felt it necessary to allow him to say goodbye to his wife. They did not realize the effect that it would have.

Cases like the Schillings, in which members of a couple die within days of each other, are not uncommon, said Gerard Magill, Vernon F. Gallagher chair for the integration of science, theology, philosophy and law and professor in the Center for Healthcare Ethics at Duquesne University. He is unsure if there have been any scholarly studies on this phenomenon, but he anecdotally knows of many similar cases.

"What we're really dealing with is a holistic system, where the mechanism of the body is only part of human life," Mr. Magill said, adding that other dimensions of life include emotions, cognitive function and spiritual health. "What we're learning is that ... oftentimes the couple is effectively an individual working together."

When a loved one dies in this situation, Mr. Magill said, it is not so much that the partner "loses the will to live." Rather, he believes that the surviving partner suddenly loses spiritual and emotional energy and subsequently fails to recalibrate his being. Mr. Magill believes this is an involuntary happening.

Regardless, Ms. Rosenberger is firm about her father's commitment to his wife, and believes it to have been a cause in his death.

"I don't think either one wanted to go on without the other one," she mused. "I think the only reason he lived to be 95 is he was living for her."

The couple is survived by three children -- Robert R. Jr., of Ambridge, Nancy Cromie of McCandless and Ms. Rosenberger --four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

A blessing ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. today at the Orion C. Pinkerton Funeral Home in Avalon. Interment will be at Christ our Redeemer Cemetery, Ross.


Wesley Yiin: wyiin@post-gazette.com.

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