When Everett, 96, died peacefully on Jan. 6, his devoted wife of 68 years, Peggy, would soon follow him after suffering a massive brain aneurysm. Her last words: “I have to take care of my Everett.”

Peggy Lundberg, age 91, knew it was her husband’s time to leave this earth.


As she stood by his bedside in their home overlooking Narragansett’s Narrow River, she prepared to say goodbye to the only man she had ever loved.


Her daughter Karen Manning, 64, was there, too, present for this final farewell to the family patriarch, Everett Lundberg, in his 96th year.


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What Karen did not yet know is that, in an astonishing twist, tragic but also beautiful in its own way, both parents were about to take their leave, virtually at the same time.


Everett had been in robust health his whole life, but age had brought decline these last six weeks, and now he was near his time, unconscious yet peaceful in a home hospital bed.


His wife, Peggy, despite her advanced years, was clear-minded, but Karen worried how her mom would fare in her 90s without the man she had been with for 74 years.


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They had met in their hometown of East Greenwich when she was 17 and he 22.


That’s when Everett first reached out to her — literally so.


It was 1946, and the two were part of a group of friends about to see a movie at the town’s Odeum Theater. Everett, recently back from World War II, caught the eye of young Peggy, who found him handsome in his Navy uniform.


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She caught his eye, too. They knew each other but had not yet personally connected.


That’s when the simplest of things happened. Although a somewhat shy young man, Everett was moved to reach out and take Peggy by the hand.


She would later say that nothing was ever the same again.


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Many doubted it would work, because Everett was a devout Lutheran and Peggy a committed Catholic. That was a big deal in the 1940s.


But the two weathered such qualms and six years later were married in East Greenwich’s Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church. Because Everett was Lutheran, the ceremony had to be in the rectory.


They had three children, and now, 68 years later, the original family of five had gathered on Jan. 5 near their patriarch in his final hours — Everett’s wife Peggy, their daughter Karen, of North Kingstown, and her two siblings, John Lundberg, 60, and Carol Lewis, 66, both now of Florida.


They had been through an adventurous life together. Everett, with his University of Rhode Island finance degree, had brought the family to seven cities as branch manager for General Motors’ finance arm.


The moves could be challenging for the kids, but their mom, Peggy, taught them the key to finding joy amid change.


“Bloom where you’re planted,” she would say.


Finally, 33 years ago, Peggy and Everett re-embraced their Rhode Island roots in retirement, here in the family’s beloved home, built by Everett’s Swedish immigrant uncle on the shores of the Narrow River.


Peggy had similar Rhode Island roots, with immigrant ancestors from Ireland who created a cherished state destination, especially at Christmas — Big John Leyden’s Tree Farm, in West Greenwich.


Karen understood why her folks loved the Narrow River house so much, with its view of the widest part of the waterway. Everett and Peggy came to call it their own Golden Pond.


They swam in it into their 70s, and in their elderly years they loved watching the shore birds, the URI rowing team and whatever else happened by.


To Karen, her parents’ marriage was a model, the two devoted to one another despite being so different.


Everett was a quiet Swede, while Peggy was outgoing with her Irish blood.


She loved to dress up, while Everett still had clothes saved from high school.


Peggy was more liberal, Everett conservative.


She remained deeply Catholic, while Everett taught Lutheran Sunday school. The three kids were amused at how their parents did everything together except on Sundays, when they went to separate churches.


But Peggy always called him “My Everett.”


Even into his late 80s, Everett volunteered at the East Greenwich Lutheran Church Cemetery, where he picked adjoining plots for himself and Peggy under a cherry tree whose blooms delighted him each spring.


Because doctors warned that Everett was in his final weeks, the family had time to talk about plans as hospice aides came and went.


Though deeply saddened, Peggy, still independent at 91, wanted to stay in their home on the water.


“You can do this, Mom,” Karen told her. “You’re strong. We’ll help you.”


Yet in her mind, it was hard for Karen to imagine either of her parents without the other.


On Sunday, Jan. 5, it became clear that Everett was approaching his last hours.


His wife and three children remained next to him and sang church hymns, including, “How Great Thou Art.” They played more hymns in the background, to let Everett know that God was calling and that he should not be afraid.


As Sunday tipped into Monday, Jan. 6, Everett breathed his last around 1 a.m. and went to his rest.


Peggy leaned over her husband to kiss him gently and say the word “Goodbye.”


And then this extraordinary thing happened.


She took a few steps, sat on the couch and looked to be in unusual distress.


“My head,” she said. “Something’s very wrong.”


EMTs arrived in minutes, but soon after, Peggy was unconscious.


Her eyes were open, and though she continued breathing, Karen could tell her mom was gone.


Doctors would later say she had suffered a massive brain aneurysm.


Peggy was soon taken to Hope Hospice in Providence, where her adult children kept vigil.


Remarkably, the next day, although immobile, she briefly came to.


“Where’s Everett?” she asked.


“Dad went to heaven yesterday,” said Karen.


“My Everett,” said Peggy. “I love him so much. I have to take care of my Everett.”


It was the last thing she said.


Peggy died two days later, on Jan. 9.


Karen and her siblings believe that God’s hand must have been in play.


“It took a few days for her body to pass,” Karen would later say, “but we felt her spirit left with my dad.”


In Karen’s eyes, it was as if Everett had once again reached out and taken Peggy’s hand.


The near simultaneous passing of Peggy and Everett Lundberg after 68 years of marriage led to a most unusual thing — a dual obituary for a married couple who passed on for different reasons at almost the same time.


It was to be followed on Saturday, Jan. 18, by a shared memorial service.


Then, after military honors for Everett, he and Peggy were to be laid to rest under the cherry tree, just as they had lived, together.


mpatinki@providencejournal.com


(401) 277-7370


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