Bob and Ruth Kretschmer lay hand in hand in their Medinah, Illinois home that they had shared for sixty years. The home that Bob Kretschmer built just for Ruth. The home they would raise their three children in.
Days earlier they had celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary. Memories lined the walls of their lifelong home just outside of Chicago.
The pair had met at a roller skating rink in Chicago what seemed like a lifetime ago — Bob, a strapping young man who liked to be in the thick of a city brawl and Ruth, a headstrong young woman with a thirst for knowledge and equality.
The two enjoyed roller skating and playing cards together. They shared a love for food. Ruth for dessert and Bob for rare steak and cognac.
And they shared a love for each other.
But as life would have it, Bob had a war to go fight in. He was a soldier in World War II and fought his way from Normandy to the Czech Republic. He almost died in battle but was saved by his propensity for coffee. He left to grab a cup of joe and returned to a dead battalion, wiped out by n enemy ambush.
He returned home at the end of the war with two purple hearts for combat wounds and an appreciation for life.
“War is so random. I don’t know why I survived and others died,” he would remark to others to ask how he was able to make it out alive.
What was important to him? Ruth. And so, just a few months after returning from battle, Bob and Ruth got married.
Bob held many jobs in his lifetime — always excelling, then leaving to try something new.
He started out working on the railroad.
Then he got the bug to become a carpenter.
And he put those new skills to work, building the home he and Ruth would share for the remainder of their life together.
Soon, he left carpentry to work in the plastics industry, where he continued to work hard. This was a job that he truly enjoyed, staying there for many years. Using his free time to assist at the local sheriff’s office as a deputy when needed.
In that home Bob built, he and Ruth shared a love for their children and for creatures big and small. It was their home. Their happiness.
They had a cow, horse, goat named Billy, raccoon, rooster and a plethora of squirrels and bunnies that they called family. They also raised Irish Setters.
Later, Bob would become quite the dog trainer. He even participated in dog shows.
And as busy as he was, he might not have been the most active one in the house.
Ruth was going places.
Ruth became the longest-serving female state regulatory commissioner in the nation with 20 years of service under her belt. She worked tirelessly advocated for fair utility pricing in Illinois. And she didn’t just do it all from the Illinois state capital.
She was asked by Kazakhstani leadership to help with the development of an electrical power grid — so she added international travel to her list of things she had to do.
After her kids were grown up and living lives of their own, Ruth went back to school and finally earned her Bachelor’s degree. She was fifty.
And she worked until she was 81 — always conscious that she was setting an example for other women in the government.
Ruth and Bob didn’t spend every minute of their marriage together. They were separate human beings with separate lives that made a relationship work because they loved each other.
To be honest, they were quite opposite at times.
Ruth was very health conscious. She worked out, took vitamins and tried to eat right — except for those pesky whipped cream desserts that always caught her eye. She loved reading and had a serious side.
Bob liked to slather his doughnuts in butter and sprinkle them with salt. He also salted his beer. Bob was a good time guy — the life of the party.
It was those pesky differences that made their lives interesting.
As with every relationship, they had to navigate their way through the waters of disagreements and arguments — the battles of raising children. And they had to find ways to keep their love alive. Love isn’t easy. It takes work. Bob and Ruth put in the work.
And although they were different people, they loved each other and loved spending time together traveling the world — seeing most of the United States, Alaska, China, Europe, South America, and the South Pacific Islands.
They enjoyed their time together. They enjoyed their life together.
When Ruth started getting dementia, Bob stood by her side. Making sure to take care of her and remind her of his love.
“That’s what you do in a relationship,” he told his kids. “You make it work.”
And then he got sick.
Bob was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. Quickly his health began to fade. This war was sure to be fatal.
Their children, knowing their parents’ desire to not be put in a nursing home, took turns caring for their parents in the home their father had built.
Soon, hospice nurses were visiting daily. Keeping them comfortable.
Despite the severity of Bob’s illness, he refused to go quietly.
He was convinced that if he were to leave Ruth that she would be put in a nursing home — all by herself.
That was his greatest fear — not dying, but that his Ruth would be all by herself.
So he held on. It seemed impossible to the nurses. But he just seemed to take it a day at a time.
“We plan to die in this home,” he had joked with her many years earlier. But now, so many years later, it felt like a promise. A promise he had made to stay with her.
Days turned into weeks. And weeks into months. Ruth’s dementia worsening. Bob barely holding on.
Sick. Together. In their beds. They celebrated their 71st anniversary.
No cake. No fancy streamers. Just the two of them together.
Five days later, Bob’s nurse grabbed his hand to wake him up. Tears streaming down her face.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Ruth’s gone,” she told him.
Seconds later, Bob’s hand went limp. He understood.
He didn’t have to fight anymore. He didn’t have to worry about Ruth anymore. He had fulfilled his promise of “til death do we part.” He could finally rest in peace.
And so, just a handful of minutes after Ruth died, Bob passed on as well.
It was a story of two people who were busy people. Different people. People who fought and worked, made mistakes, and had regrets. But they seemed to understand an important lesson.
It’s easy to get caught up in being right. Or being heard.
It’s natural to want to prove that you’re right — to your spouse, your friend, your child, your sister, and the other important people in your life.
There isn’t anything new that I can tell you about having relationships matter. I don’t have any special magic to make yours any easier or better.
“AT THE ROOT OF RELATIONSHIPS THAT WORK ARE TWO PEOPLE WHO DECIDE TO STOP MAKING EXCUSES AND DO WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE.”
It’s about making time for people that you say matter to you. It’s about keeping promises.
How are you treating the people you say are the most important in your life?
What if today is your last day?