A love story to the very endBy Tom Rivers
Couple dies a day apart after 60 years of marriage
They met at a dance in the Knowlesville Hotel. For 60 years of marriage, Ed and Floreen Hale were inseparable. They were well-known in Batavia for frequenting many diners and restaurants.
Mrs. Hale, an Albion native, often wore colorful foo foos in her hair. She loved to dress up. She had a spark in her personality and she made people laugh with her sense of humor.
Mr. Hale, who worked as an engineer in Batavia, loved to dote on his wife, always bringing her a treat or present when he went to the grocery store. They took daily drives around Batavia. He was proud of the city and the residential and commercial development he helped to shape.
Mrs. Hale died on Feb. 7. Her husband died the following day. They were together, in the same room, at United Memorial Medical Center surrounded by family.
“He was a gentleman right up to the end, waiting for her to go first,” said the couple’s daughter Renee Hirsch.
Floreen grew up in Albion on East Park Street. She married when she was 19. She and her first husband were driving in Fredonia, on their way back to Batavia from Biloxi, Miss., when they were in a serious car accident two days before Christmas.
Floreen’s husband died in that accident, just three months after they married. He was a serviceman stationed down South. Floreen was seriously injured in the crash. She wasn’t able to leave her family’s home in Albion for six months while she recovered from her injuries.
When she and Ed started dating, Floreen’s mother Sarah Papponetti was adamant Mr. Hale should not marry her daughter. She was too sick and would be too much of a burden. But Mr. Hale wouldn’t accept that answer.
His response to her has become part of Hale family lore: “I don’t care if I have to carry her in my arms everyday,” Hale responded. Mrs. Papponetti gave her blessing to the marriage.
The Hales had two children – Renee Hirsch of San Diego and Ricky Hale of East Bethany. The couple lived in Batavia, in a house on Belvedere Lane designed by Mr. Hale. He was happy to see a community where small-town merchants and the big box stores could co-exist. When he retired from Batavia, he continued to work as an engineering consultant for Le Roy.
But his great joy was pampering his wife, his daughter Renee said. He did most of the grocery shopping, and he brought her home a flower, a cookie, or some other present or treat – every time he went to the store. When she worked as a telephone operator at the former St. Jerome Hospital in Batavia, Mr. Hale would bring her dinner and often coffee and baked goods for her co-workers.
He would warm up the car around 10:30 p.m., brush it off in the winter, and have it ready for her in the parking lot when her shift ended at 11. In the family he was known as “Saint Edward.”
He never acted like it was a burden, all the attention and care he showered on his wife, said Floreen’s sister Marlene DeCarlo of Albion. Floreen’s brother Harry Papponetti also lives in Albion.
Some of Floreen’s family and friends would tease her. They would say,"What are you ever going to do without your husband?" Mrs. Hale said he wasn’t allowed to go before her. She meant it.
“She’s been saying for years if anything happens to him, I’m going too,” said her sister Marlene DeCarlo. “She had a great sense of humor about it. She admitted to being pampered.”
Mr. Hale was high energy and active, all of his life. He slowed down a little about 5 Â½ years ago when he needed dialysis treatments three days a week for five hours each session. Hale despised the treatments, but he soldiered on.
Doctors predicted he would live two to five years, tops, once he started the treatments, his daughter said.
Mr. Hale endured heart attacks and diabetes, in addition to his failed kidneys. He still doted on his wife, taking her for car rides and for dinner almost every day.
“His heart was so strong and so was his will to survive,” daughter Renee said. “He kept dodging illnesses because she didn’t want him to leave her.”
Mr. Hale was at Unity Hospital in Rochester when his wife became seriously ill on Feb. 4.
Mrs. Hale has battled chronic illnesses – asthma, bronchitis and other ailments – for many years. She endured open-heart surgery and took many medications to keep her body going.
She would dress up for her doctor appointments, with shoes and a hair decoration to match her outfits. Her husband was almost always with her when she went to the doctor.
She was admitted to UMMC in Batavia on Feb. 4 for what her family thought was dehydration and anemia, nothing too serious. But her body started to give out, her lungs filled with fluid and she was in a life-threatening situation.
The family was in a crisis. Floreen was dying in Batavia while her husband could die at any moment in a Rochester hospital.
“We didn’t know whose bedside we should go to,” Renee said.
“It was quite a blow to family,” Marlene said. “We were handed two death sentences.”
A husband insists on seeing his wife
Mr. Hale seemed incoherent at Unity, his daughter said. He mumbled and faded in and out of consciousness. Death seemed imminent.
But in the middle of the night on Feb. 6, he woke up and spoke to his daughter in a clear and controlled manner. “I need to see Floreen.”
He didn’t know she was clinging to life in Batavia. Mr. Hale, at 4 in the morning, insisted on joining her. But his family didn’t see how that could happen. He would need to be taken by ambulance, and might not be stable enough for the trip.
Unity would have to release him and he would need to be admitted at UMMC. And what were the chances of being in the same room with his wife?
Renee at 4:30 in the morning called the hospice in Monroe County and relayed the situation. A supervisor there called the hospice in Genesee County.
A hospital social worker reached out to Monroe Ambulance and then tried to reach an agreement between the two hospitals for Mr. Hale to be admitted to Batavia. That could only happen if he could show more strength to make the trip.
Mr. Hale that morning rebounded in health. He became alert and his vital signs showed significant improvement.
“In his dying hours there was a will that he had to see my mom,” Renee said.
He was cleared for the ride to Batavia. He arrived at about 1 p.m. on Feb. 6.
“I want to see my wife,” he declared at UMMC.
The Batavia hospital and the hospice in Genesee County had a room for Mr. and Mrs. Hale. Their hospital beds were pushed next to each other and the couple held hands.
About 20 to 30 family and friends were able to visit with them. They smiled as family recounted some of their adventures together.
Mrs. Hale died the following day at 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 7. Her husband died on Feb. 8.
Mrs. Hale loved the color red. She had red wallpaper in her home, red floors, red appliances and many red outfits. She happened to die on National Wear Red Day. That is part of public awareness push by the American Heart Association.
The couple had a joint funeral this past Thursday at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Batavia. The Rev. Richard Csizmar, the priest from Albion, led the service. He noted it was the day before Valentine’s Day. The Hales personified love for each other, giving a powerful example for the community, Csizmar said.
Doctors and nurses attended the calling hours and service. So did many of the waitresses and restaurant owners in Batavia.
“People have told us it’s a beautiful story, a real testament of love,” said Marlene’s daughter Lisa Giattino of Albion. “We’re so thankful they were able to be together at the end. People moved mountains to make it happen. It was nothing short of divine intervention.”