Oct. 19, 2011 — -- A devoted Iowa couple married for 72 years died holding hands in the hospital last week, exactly one hour apart.
The passing reflected the nature of their marriage, where, "As a rule, everything was done together," said the couple's daughter Donna Sheets, 71.
Gordon Yeager, 94, and his wife Norma, 90, left their small town of State Center, Iowa, on Wednesday to go into town, but never made it. A car accident sent the couple to the emergency room and intensive care unit with broken bones and other injuries. But, even in the hospital, their concerns were each other.
"She was saying her chest hurt and what's wrong with Dad? Even laying there like that, she was worried about Dad," said the couple's son, Dennis Yeager, 52. "And his back was hurting and he was asking about Mom."
When it became clear that their conditions were not improving, the couple was moved into a room together in beds side-by-side where they could hold hands.
"They joined hands; his right hand, her left hand," Sheets said.
Gordon Yeager died at 3:38 p.m. He was no longer breathing, but the family was surprised by what his monitor showed.
"Someone in there said, 'Why, then, when we look at the monitor is the heart still beating?'" Sheets recalled. "The nurse said Dad was picking up Mom's heartbeat through Mom's hand."
"And we thought, 'Oh my gosh, Mom's heart is beating through him,'" Dennis Yeager said.
Norma Yeager died exactly an hour later.
"Dad used to say that a woman is always worth waiting for," Dennis Yeager said. "Dad waited an hour for her and held the door for her."
The inseparable couple was engaged and married within 12 hours in 1939 on the day Norma Yeager graduated from high school.
"She graduated from high school on May 26, 1939, at about 10 a.m., and at about 10 p.m. that night she was married to my dad at his sister's house," Sheets said.
The vibrant duo had a "very, very full life."
They worked as a team. They traveled together, they were in a bridge club together and they worked in a Chevrolet dealership, creamery and other businesses together.
"They always did everything together," Sheets said. "They weren't apart. They just weren't."
Dennis Yeager described his father as an "outgoing" and "hyper" man who was still working on the roof of his house and sitting cross-legged with no problem at age 90.
"The party didn't start until he showed up," he said. "He was the outgoing one and she supported him by being the giver. She supported Dad in everything. And he would've been lost without her."
Dennis Yeager said it is strange today to go into his parents' home and see the "two chairs side-by-side that they sat in all the time," empty. He said it was in those chairs that his parents cheered on the Arizona sports teams they loved and rarely missed an episode of "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price Is Right."
According to their obituary, besides their children, the Yeagers are survived by her sister, Virginia Kell, and his brother, Roger Yeager, as well as 14 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.
Their grandson Randy Yeager said he has been inspired in his own 13-year marriage by his grandparents' loving and lasting marriage.
"Grandpa and I were talking this summer about all of the people getting divorced for this reason or that and he mentioned that nobody stays together anymore," Randy Yeager wrote to ABCNews.com in an email. "I told [him] that my wife Mara and I would never be getting a divorce and he said, 'That's because you're old school, like me!'
"That was one of the greatest compliments I could have ever received and one I will strive to live up to for the rest of my life," Randy Yeager said.
The couple were put in a casket together holding hands for their funeral this week, but are being cremated and will have their ashes mixed before burial.
"All their life has been together," Sheets said. "So, when it came to the funeral home, the family asked, 'Can we have them put in the casket together holding hands?' Because that's the way their life was."