Elderly California couple take last breaths together


 — In hospital beds pushed together in their Easton, California home, Floyd and Violet Hartwig weren’t able to communicate the day they died — at least, not in words. Their breathing told another story.

As the couple lay side by side and held hands, family members noticed their breathing often was synchronized. At one point, it jumped simultaneously from around five to 16 breaths a minute.

Granddaughter Cynthia Letson smiled as she remembered. “It was like they were all revived or something.”

“I think that’s what kept them going … that they each had the other one,” said the Hartwigs’ daughter, Donna Scharton. “They didn’t want to go without each other.”

And they didn’t.

On Feb. 11, after 67 years of marriage, they died within hours of each other at home.

Floyd, 90, died first, still holding his wife’s hand. Violet, 89, died five hours later.

Each was beset by illness for many years. Violet had dementia, a number of strokes and was losing weight fast — just 60 pounds on her last doctor’s visit. Floyd previously had colon and bladder cancer and was diagnosed with kidney failure two weeks before he died.

Still, up until January, the couple — who Scharton described as “easygoing but stubborn” — insisted on taking care of themselves. Floyd was still mowing the lawn and carrying bundles of firewood. And just days before their passing, the couple still dined together at the kitchen table.


Even as Floyd’s health declined, family said his focus was caring for his beloved “Vi.”

“He would tell the doctor, ‘I’m OK, I want Vi fixed.’ … He had a hard time getting up and down and was using his cane, and he was so short of breath he could just go about 10 feet, but his concern was helping her,” Scharton said. “He was not going to give up on that.”

The couple, both born in Fresno, knew each other since elementary school. But their love story didn’t begin until the 1940s, when Floyd was on leave from the Navy during World War II. They met up at the Rainbow Ballroom in Fresno, and the connection they made there would last a lifetime.

When Floyd was sent back to his ship in the Pacific, they corresponded through letters until Floyd was honorably discharged from the Navy in early 1948.

The family has 131 of the letters Floyd and Violet wrote to each other between 1946 and 1948. On at least one occasion, Floyd wrote Violet five times in one day.

In May 1947 Floyd wrote from Johnston Atoll in the Pacific: “Hi honey, just a few lines from this lonely blue sailor of yours. Miss you darling and so in love with you.  … Honey, I’ll sure be glad when I get out of this. It sure isn’t for me, though at one time I thought the Navy was pretty swell. That was before I fell in love with the sweetest girl in the world.

“Love you my dearest and want you so. Vi, I heard our song this evening and it sure did make me homesick for you. Honey, did you ever get a record of it? I certainly hope so as I want to listen to it and have you in my arms at the same time.”

It wouldn’t be long until Floyd would have that moment, listening to “Till the End of Time.” The couple was married Aug. 16, 1947.

Floyd and Violet Hartwig who died within five hours of each other, Fresno, California.

Floyd and Violet Hartwig who died within five hours of each other, Fresno, California.

After their marriage, it would be several months before Floyd was discharged from the Navy.

In December 1947, newlywed Violet wrote to Floyd: “Need your arms around me darling, hope it will be soon honey. All my love darling and take care of yourself. Love you, love you, and shall always love only you, honey, as long as I live. Your loving wife, forever.”

When Floyd returned home, his first job was delivering eggs in the Fresno area. Later he got a job as a foreman on a large Fresno County farm, where he worked most of his life, retiring at age 65. The couple also had a 20-acre ranch in the Easton area.

“They worked side by side,” Scharton said, “chopping cotton, feeding turkeys and supporting each other and supporting the children.” They would raise three: Donna, Carol and Kenneth.

“They’re good homegrown country folks,” Scharton said of her parents.

She said their commitment to each other and family was the center of their lives.

Of their passing together, their daughter said tearfully, “We felt blessed because we knew that’s what they wanted.

“And when we went to the funeral home and saw the two caskets — it was meant to be. That’s the only way it could end.”

Originally published by the Fresno Bee, author Carmen George.