A couple who had been married for nearly seven decades shared a touching final moment together at a Tennessee hospital before their deaths.
Karen Kreager, the couple’s daughter, shared their heartwarming story with Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s VUMC Voice. She recounted the special reunion her parents had at the hospital before her father’s passing. “He was awake when she came in,” Kreager said of him.
“His eyes were open. He wasn’t communicating a lot — just in small whispers. But he knew that she was there and that she was going to be right beside him. They didn’t stop holding hands the whole time.”
Tommy Stevens, known as Doyle Thomas “Tommy” Stevens Jr., and Virginia McKarem, originally from Kingsport, Tennessee, first crossed paths at Dobyns-Bennett High School. Their journey continued as they both attended the University of Tennessee, eventually tying the knot on September 9, 1954.
Tommy embarked on his career as a transportation manager for Burlington Industries following his service as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Later on, he founded Distribution and Transportation Services (DTS), Inc. Virginia, as mentioned in her obituary, not only worked alongside Tommy at DTS but also remained active in various local church, school, and civic groups.
The couple settled in Memphis, where they raised their two children, Karen and Greg. Upon retiring, they relocated to Franklin to be closer to their children and grandchildren.
In Tommy’s later years, he battled Alzheimer’s disease, as reported by VUMC Voice. He eventually moved to a memory care unit in an assisted living facility, where he and Virginia resided together.
Tommy’s health took a critical turn when he experienced breathing issues and dangerously low blood pressure, leading to his admission to VUMC. He was diagnosed with sepsis and pneumonia, and when further treatment was no longer feasible, he was transferred to VUMC’s Palliative Care Unit.
Coincidentally, on the same day Tommy was hospitalized, Virginia suffered a fall and was also brought to VUMC. She was admitted to VUMC’s Trauma ICU, having sustained six broken ribs, a spinal fracture, and a hip injury.
As the family alternated between visiting Tommy in the Palliative Care Unit and Virginia in the Trauma ICU, the compassionate staff at VUMC took extraordinary measures to bring the couple together. They initially placed Virginia in a room next to Tommy’s, before eventually arranging a bed beside his so that Virginia could be with him, providing comfort and companionship.
Virginia expressed her gratitude, saying: “You know, it helped me a lot. It just gave me peace that I wouldn’t have to worry about him. He was going to be with me.” A photograph captured the poignant image of Tommy and Virginia, holding hands from their respective hospital beds.
Kreager fondly recalled the family reminiscing about their past vacations at the beach and holiday feasts, all while being able to focus on both of her parents at the same time. “And the most important thing for us was that they were together,” she remarked.
Dr. Mohana Karlekar, the medical director of VUMC’s adult Palliative Care Program, recalled Virginia’s tender gestures toward her husband during their hospital stay. “She was able to tell me Monday that she was at peace with what was going on, and she wanted to be there until the end,” Karlekar shared with VUMC Voice.
When Tommy passed away, Virginia, surrounded by their loving family, was by his side. She joined him in eternal rest on September 17.
“What a love story,” Virginia’s obituary read. “In life, in death, in life eternal. Together.”
This story definitely made me tear up, how sweet! What did you think? Let us know in the comments!