BATAVIA, N.Y. – Sixty years ago, Ed Hale wanted to marry a girl named Floreen. But because he was a gentleman, and because a thing called chivalry existed back then, there was something he had to do before they could spend the rest of their lives together.
He had to ask her parents for permission.
Hale didn't get the answer he expected at first. Floreen would not be getting married, they told him, but the story was a little more complicated than a simple "no." Their daughter had just been in a horrific car accident, leaving her on a long and strenuous road to recovery. He would need to find another wife.
"I want to be with her for the rest of her life," Hale told her parents at the time. "I will care for her the rest of my life if I have to."
Those must have been the magic words, because Ed and Floreen Hale got married in 1953. From there, their love story reads like a great American romance novel. They had three kids: Ricky and Renee, and also Scott, who died shortly after birth. Those kids had children, and they became the grandparents who threw pool parties in the summers and picked their grandchildren up from the airport when they came to visit from San Diego. This summer, they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, and even though Ed had been restricted to a wheelchair during the past few years, he was still a throwback: an old-fashioned, hold-the-door kind of guy who catered to Floreen's every need. He was an engineer by trade. He always wanted everything to be perfect for his wife.
So this month, when Ed's health began to deteriorate to its very lowest point at Unity Hospital in Rochester, his first demand came as no surprise to anybody.
"He needed to see my mother," said Renee Hirsh.
Ed wanted hospital personnel to take him to Batavia, where he and his wife were so popular they were basically considered local celebrities. But he was a dying man. He'd just elected to stop dialysis treatments.
"They told me my father was not stable, and that he probably would not survive an ambulance ride," Hirsh said. "But he was so determined to be next to my mother's side."
The hospitals pulled a few strings. They waited until they could medically clear Ed for an ambulance ride. Then, they sent him on his way to Batavia to spend his final days with the woman he almost wasn't allowed to marry.
He thought he was going home to see Floreen.
In reality, he was going to United Memorial Medical Center in Batavia to see Floreen. She was dying too, after years of struggling with numerous illnesses, including congestive heart failure. He didn't know that when he made his request. Eventually, Ed and Floreen would learn the inevitable: they were losing each other. But if they were going to lose each other, they were going to do it together.
When Ed arrived at UMMC, staff immediately set up a bed for him in Floreen's room. With dozens of family members in the room, they held hands.
"There was a lot of love in that room," said Lisa Giattino, Ed and Floreen's niece. "Everyone at UMMC said you could just feel the energy coming down the hallway."
What happened in that room is hard to describe in words. In fact, it would almost be a disservice to even attempt it. At its very core, it was a final moment between a husband and wife, two people who in a new era of high divorce rates had stuck together for six decades.
Floreen died on Feb. 7.
Fewer than 36 hours later, Ed passed.
In a way, it was the perfect ending.
"I think it was so beautiful the way it happened," Giattino said. "It is a true love story."
But the end to any love story is never easy to handle.
"It's been like a tornado. It's been like a double-death sentence that hit us unexpectedly," said Hirsh, who lives in San Diego but flew to Western New York when her mother fell ill. "But [my mom] would tell me many, many, times for many, many years, 'I'm going with him, I'm not going to live without your father. I'm going with him.' I'd often wonder, how can that be possible?"
Hirsh and other family members credit the agencies and personnel who worked tirelessly to put Ed and Floreen in the same hospital room in Batavia, including both hospital staffs, hospice workers and the ambulance workers. One hospice supervisor even took a call at 4:30 in the morning in an effort to unite them.
"They made it happen," Hirsh said.
All those years ago, Ed and Floreen met at a dance. More than 60 years later, it ended in a hospital. But they leave behind a wide extended family, a lasting legacy and dozens upon dozens of memories to be shared around the dinner table. And they even convinced their grandchildren to root for the Bills all the way from California.
Floreen will be remembered as the vibrant, outgoing storyteller who kept the mood light and instantly became a favorite patient to the doctors and nurses at UMMC. Ed will be remembered as a diehard sports fan and the quintessential gentleman who put his wife before all else.
"He followed that commitment," Hirsh said, "to his last breath."