Husband and Wife Die 16 Hours Apart, After 76 Years Together. That's True Love

Cleda and Frell Blair (Courtesy of the Blair Family)Cleda and Frell Blair (Courtesy of the Blair Family)Seventy-six years ago, Cleda and Rosemond "Frell" Blair vowed never to part. They kept their word, even in death.

Just sixteen hours after Cleda, 95, passed away last Wednesday in an Idaho retirement home, Rosemond, 94, died as well.

Video: meet America's longest married couple

"They were together constantly," the couple's son, 68-year-old Boyd Blair, told the Associated Press. "They were inseparable in life and I guess also inseparable in a better place."

As high school students in Lewiston Utah, they fell in love and later married. Their romance survived a World War, and spawned 2 children, 12 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren. Frell, a World War II veteran and mechanic, built a home in Oregon for his wife and growing family when he returned from the Pacific Isles in 1946. In recent years, they relocated to an Idaho retirement community to be closer to their family (who collected vintage photos of the couple in this online archive).

Cleda endured a long battle with breast cancer, while caring for her husband whose health was also failing. Their son Boyd said just before his mother died at 12:30 AM last week, his father took her hand in his and wept. Hours later he followed in her path.
Frell and Cleda Blair as a young couple. (Courtesy of Legacy.com)Frell and Cleda Blair as a young couple. (Courtesy of Legacy.com)
'The ties that bind' phenomenon isn't as uncommon as it seems. Last month, a Pennsylvania couple died within 88 minutes of each other. Marjorie Landis had been married to her husband James for 65 years when she finally succumbed to a long-term illness. Less than two hours later her husband died of a heart attack.

At the time, James' grand-daughter told the Tribune-Democrat she believed he "died of a broken heart," adding "I don't think they could have lived apart from each other."

Broken heart syndrome has been a part of romantic folklore for centuries, but it's only recently been validated as a medical condition. A 2005 report in the New England Journal of Medicine called the phenomenon "stress cardiomyopathy," a cardiac trauma believed to be triggered by a rapid release of stress hormones.

In some cases the hormones released are 30 times the levels of normal patients, according to one of the report's researchers, Dr. Ilan Wittstein. "Our theory was that in the setting of trauma, the body produces a sudden surge of these hormones to produce the 'fight or flight' reaction that's essential to survival," Wittenstein, an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at Johns Hopkins Hospital, explained in an interview with PBS last month. "But if they're produced too quickly, they can go directly to the heart and cause an adverse reaction in the heart muscle."

Wittstein has seen over 250 patients with the condition at his hospital alone. "Through retrospective studies, we've been able to determine that 2 percent of the people who were rushed to a cath lab with a suspected heart attack actually had Broken Heart Syndrome," he added.

One recent study suggests that the risk of sudden death in the 24 hours after losing a spouse is 16 times higher than normal.

Read: get the facts on Broken Heart Syndrome

Rosemund "Frell" Blair's condition was not confirmed as a medical case of "Broken Heart Syndrome," but the emotional connection between the couple was uncontested.

"They were definitely each other's best friend and partner," Kelly Martin, general manager of the Blair's retirement community, told the AP. "One just could not be in life without the other."

In a moving joint obituary for Cleda and Frell, their closest kin honored the Blair's connection not only in death but in life. According to loved ones: "Their legacy of love and commitment to each other and their family will be the things remembered most."

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