When Herbert DeLaigle’s health started to decline in 2017, he scheduled a meeting with the preacher at his church in Waynesboro, Georgia.
During the sit-down, Herbert revealed that he wasn’t afraid of dying, but he was scared to leave his beloved wife, Marilyn, behind.
In the end, Marilyn was only without Herbert for 12 hours. Herbert, 94, died from heart failure at 2:20 a.m. on July 12. Marilyn, 88, took her final breath at 2:20 p.m the same day.
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“My mom had Alzheimer’s and was sleeping in a bed next to him when he went,” Donnie DeLaigle, the couple's son, told TODAY. “As soon as they came to take my dad, her breathing went crazy. She was shaking. It was like she knew he was gone."
Marilyn’s official cause of death was senile degeneration of the brain. Still, it’s hard not to wonder if Marilyn died of a broken heart.
Scientists in the 1990s discovered that a traumatic event such as the loss of a loved one, can literally break your heart. The condition called takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or “broken heart syndrome,” is triggered by stress hormones including adrenaline, and temporarily disrupts the heart’s normal pumping function.
Herbert and Marilyn’s daughter, Helen Iris DeLaigle, said a nurse predicted her parents would die on the same day.
“She pulled me aside six months ago and said, ‘When I go to check your dad’s vitals, your mom’s will be neck-in-neck with his,’” Helen Iris told TODAY. “She had never seen anything like it in her career.”
Donnie, who is one of six siblings, said he could not imagine his parents’ story ending any other way.
“Mom and Dad held hands wherever they went. That’s what they were known for in town,” Donnie, 66, said. “They held hands in their sleep.”
"It embarrassed me when I was a teenager," Helen Iris admitted. "But when I got older, I was like, 'How precious.'"
Marilyn explained to her children that it was because the decorated Army veteran was gone so often. Herbert served during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
“My mother said she was going to hold on to him when he was home,” Donnie told TODAY. “So that was their thing.”
The funeral, which was held on Monday, was a celebration.
“We can’t be sad,” Donnie said. “Now they’re in heaven holding hands.”
This story first appeared on TODAY.com. More from TODAY: