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Last Kiss: Stories of loss from our readers

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  • Randy Swearingen and his wife

    Randy Swearingen and his wife


Randy and Arlene

Whether the death of your spouse is imminent or comes as a total surprise, you never can be prepared.

My wife and I were told in May 2014 that she had stage 4 lung cancer. We did everything possible to save her. She wasn't strong enough to tolerate chemo so the oncologist had no choice but to send her home and to keep her as comfortable as possible with hospice care. She died five months later at 74.

We had been married for 30 years and lived our lives with lots of love and fun.

I along with her sister gave her a grand memorial service fit for a princess and an angel. I grieved for a few weeks and then said, "I have a life to live for her." I had her favorite tree, a crimson king maple, along with a memorial plaque planted in the front yard.

A small display of her memorabilia is in my office along with a prayer from her that I got from her sister.

In December 2014, I adopted a rescue dog to take care of. She gives me great comfort in knowing that I have her to take care of. She's a 45-pound lab mix that needs lots of exercise so we walk every day at a local dog park.

I am now 77 and she is 3. Both of us are in good shape.

If I were the wife losing a spouse, I would get a smaller dog. Traveling with a pet these days is easy with all the pet-friendly places to stay.

I stay in touch with family and friends and I joined a club. I hope this is of some help to those who lose or have lost a spouse.

Randy Swearingen


Charlene and Bob

Charlene and Bob Dahl of Elk Grove Village
Charlene and Bob Dahl of Elk Grove Village

My very kind, gentle, loving husband Bob died early Thanksgiving morning in 2016. Our whole family had planned on being here for dinner, and because of my terrible early morning call, many were able to come sooner. Our Thanksgiving dinner then became a celebration of his life. We all laughed and cried, with each recalling a favorite memory.

For weeks before, I realized he was failing, and since my religion is very important to me, I did what I have always done in difficult times; I turned to prayer. My prayer was the he would receive the Blessing of the Sick, that whatever was ahead would be easy for him and that he would not suffer. And all of those prayers were answered.

Our parish priest came as soon as I requested his visit; Bob died in his own bed in his own house; Bob's suffering was minimal. My Catholic faith and my family have continued to help me cope with this loss. I still go to church every morning, as I have done for many years.

My whole family -- my three children, their spouses and my grandchildren -- have been very supportive, each in a special way. When possible, they include me in many activities.

Another way to cope is to keep very busy -- volunteering at church, the hospital, etc., going out to lunch with friends, working on my computer. Even with all of that, it is still very lonely many times. There is always that empty chair when returning home and it's no fun to cook for one.

While his death is my ultimate loss, after 56 years of marriage, I have experienced many deaths and have realized that you must help yourself cope. People are not interested in hearing woe-is-me with complaint after complaint.

I have not attended any grief sessions, but I feel no need for that now. Because of my prayers and my family, I am at peace.

Charlene L Dahl

Elk Grove Village

Wink and Bill

Wink Heller of Arlington Heights and her late husband Bill.
Wink Heller of Arlington Heights and her late husband Bill.

In December 2005, my husband, Bill Heller was diagnosed with stage 4 brain tumors. He had glioblastome multiforme. A death sentence.

He died on March 28, 2006 at the age of 51. Bill was stoic through the whole ordeal. He showed me what true faith meant.

Not once did he complain or say,"Why me?"

Coping with the loss of the love of my life was difficult but watching what his loss did to my two children was horrible.

I coped, with the love and support of my family and friends. Whenever I am faced a daunting situation I would ask myself, what would Bill want me to do?

You have two choices when faced with a loss. You can wallow in self pity and grief or live your life as your loved one would want you to.

When sadness hits me, as it does from time to time, I think how lucky I was to have known Bill and have him in my life. Some people never get a great love.

I also find that working to find the cause or cure for brain tumors through fundraising gives me a sense of purpose. I wouldn't want another family to go through what mine has. A positive outlook makes all the difference.

Wink Heller

Arlington Heights

Diane and John

Diane and John Kerruish of South Elgin
Diane and John Kerruish of South Elgin

Losing a spouse is like riding a wave. Sometimes smooth sailing, sometimes it pulls you under.

I don't think it matters how much time passes, as there are days that the loneliness consumes you. The sunshine coming through the window takes you back to a special moment, a certain smell recalls a time gone by.

I lost my husband at the young age of 40. Two sons, one in high school, one in sixth grade. How would I or could I do this?

It was up to me, the mom, to be both parents to these boys.

Our circle of friends changed during the first couple of years. Our friends continued with their lives, uninterrupted by a death that tears you to your core. Family helps.

Strength and faith carry you through the bad days.

John died in April 1995. Eighteen days later was our wedding anniversary and one week after that was our son's 16th birthday. Around the next corner came Mother's Day and so on. Memories are what we have now.

The life I had imagined was not to be, but my life is good and I am blessed beyond words.

Diane Kerruish

South Elgin

Judy and Joe

Joseph and Judith Lopez of Naperville.
Joseph and Judith Lopez of Naperville.

I lost my husband almost three years ago from prostrate cancer.

I was lucky in the way that I had two and a half years to share and prepare with him before he was gone.

Many people lose their loved once instantly or without any notice.

The most important advice I could give anyone is make sure no matter how young or old you are, you have life insurance for you and your loved ones.

Second, if married, both you and your spouse should handle the finances. Leaving it for one partner to handle is a big mistake.

If the one left behind has no idea how to handle the finances or the home, they are not only lost without you, they will financially struggle. They won't know where anything is or what to do, which increases the depression and struggle from the loss of the loved one.

It is critical that both you and your partner know where everything is together as far as paperwork on the house; bank accounts; how you pay bills; if online, what are the passwords, how can I access the sites, etc.

Always plan together and never do anything alone for you never know when that day will come when the worst day of your life happens.

This especially goes out to women who always let their husbands handle the finances. Big Mistake!

Please make sure you both sit down and go over where everything is and what each of you want if that day comes. It makes a difficult situation so much less complicated and less stressful.

Another suggestion is never be afraid of going to see a therapist. They are wonderful!

Most people feel they don't need them and can handle anything on their own, like how I felt.

When I did go to a therapist, it was a way for me to vent what I was feeling and to get expert advice on so many topics, not just grief.

They are there for you to have someone who will listen to your pain, assistance and direction for your next steps and a way to feel you are not alone.

Judy J. Lopez


Emily and John

Emily Monroe of Arlington Heights lost her husband John to cancer more than 20 years ago.
Emily Monroe of Arlington Heights lost her husband John to cancer more than 20 years ago. - Courtesy of Emily Monroe

How does healing happen when a spouse dies? Every situation is different.

What does healing mean? The pain of the loss is more than any physical pain, and it can last for years. Healing means being able to cope with the changes in your life.

The life you know is shattered. All hopes, dreams, wishes, and fantasies you had are gone.

For some, it is like it is a clear sunny day and you do not see the train coming. For others, it is like a clear sunny day and you do see the train coming, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. No matter when it happens, you are not prepared.

Someone said to me that the pain would go away, but the void remains.

The pain can last many years. Healing does not mean forgetting. Healing somehow occurs when you can tell what happened without reliving it.

Support groups are a great help. Some need professional help. Some need medication.

Many have told me the second year after the death was harder. There is no right way to grieve. It is unique to each person.

It helps to tell the story of your loss many times. This is where a support group helps.

Friends, family, and work colleagues know what happened, but they do not want to hear what you need to say again and again.

The "they" out there expect you to be your normal self in two weeks, certainly by six weeks. Healing is finding a new normal. It is who am I now, and that will take the rest of my life.

Alone and lonely are not the same thing. Being in a group of couples after the loss, heightens the sadness. Grief is part of life. Losing the love of my life does not mean my life is over. There are still things to learn and adventures to find. Life for me is a gift.

Emily Monroe

Arlington Heights

Eileen and Tom

Tom and Eileen Reading of Rolling Meadow
Tom and Eileen Reading of Rolling Meadow

It is very personal for me. I have been a widow for almost nine years now.

We were married 39 years and my husband was 65 when he passed.

I knew when I married him that he had a heart condition and he would always mention to me that he would go before me.

I am not sure if he was a realist or sometimes a pessimist but as the years went on, his condition worsened. After many surgeries and procedures, he prepared me both mentally and physically for being alone.

When things needed repair around the house, I was there listening and taking notes. We worked together on several maintenance issues on the house and I had many years earlier, taken over the financial issues with input from him of course.

He was my best friend and my rock but I knew the time would come when I would stand alone.

He was a people person and introduced me to many of his community friends that he made while I was still working.

So when the end came and God called him home, when he did not wake up one morning, I felt I still did not want to let go but knew he did. He tried everything he could to continue living for me and our girls.

So after a period of grieving, life went on and I thanked him many times over for allowing me to take charge in our marriage, to take care of him and other matters.

I believe I have grown personally and have gotten more confidence in myself in many ways. I still have a great support team of family and many friends.

Life goes on and I am too young to not enjoy life to the fullest.

Eileen Reading

Rolling Meadows

Julie and Paul

Paul J. and Julie P. Schlueter of Deer Park.
Paul J. and Julie P. Schlueter of Deer Park.


That's what my family and friends think about me since the loss of my husband three years ago.

They think it means I am accepting, reconciled and tolerant of my situation and because of those traits, I am able to move forward.

They are wrong. I am only strong on the outside because I need to be.

I don't have a choice. I can't just quit life, though at times I want to.

On the inside, I am still working through my grief. The phrase "working through my grief" implies that there is an end point, that once you get through, you're done. This is also wrong.

There is no done, but you do become more aware of your new normal. Your new normal includes times of sad feelings about your loss.

But your new normal also allows you to laugh occasionally and most importantly, it sometimes allows you to glimpse into an optimistic future.

While there are many lonely times, there are sporadic times of delight in your new found (though forced) freedom. No more sharing the remote! A small thing for sure, but it initiates a spark that points to a lighter outlook.

Allow yourself to relish those moments as they will help carry you in your new normal.

Julie Schlueter

Deer Park

Anita and Ken

Picture of Anita and Kenneth Steinke at a wedding in 2014.
Picture of Anita and Kenneth Steinke at a wedding in 2014. - Courtesy of Anita Steinke

I had a wonderful husband, father of our five children, who died in one breath on August 30, 2016.

He was 85 years old and had a stent put in two weeks prior to his death. He had remarked the day before that he had 16 years to live because it was 16 years previously that he had a stent.

We sat down on the day of his death. He thought the Cubs would be playing, but I looked it up in the paper and the Cubs were playing that evening. His last words were, "I just wanted to watch the Cubs."

I was shocked when he didn't answer a question I asked and in five seconds looked at him and he had taken his last breath without making a sound.

I screamed and realized he was dead and called the paramedics who worked on him but could not get a breath from him.

I met him when I was 17 and he was 20. After we went together for seven months, he was called to the Korean War conflict. After two years, he came home and we got married seven months later.

We had a picture-perfect marriage. He always called me his "treasure" or his "bride." Now he was gone.

Both of us had a deep faith in God. We went to St. Raymond's Catholic Church. He had converted when he was in the service. He definitely had a strong faith in Jesus and we prayed together often.

Now this wonderful husband and father, grandfather of 14 and great grandfather of 14 was not with me.

After the initial shock, I decided that I would spend the first hour or two in prayer. I became closer and closer to our Lord and beyond that, my children made it clear that I would always have help. Each one took a day, one to get me to church, one to get the shopping done. Every Sunday, they would make sure I would have something to do.

My kids have been unbelievably helpful. They are always calling and making sure I am OK.

I am amazed that I grieved terribly, but only for about three months because of the attention my children and even grandchildren have given me, and how my love for God has increased by more and more dependence on God.

I give all praise to God and find myself talking to Jesus. I know Ken is at peace and still think he is watching over me.

I encourage anyone who has lost a spouse to pray like they never did before and walk much closer to God than they ever did. I will see him again, but I have to go see him; he cannot return to see me.

This is my story. I still miss him terribly, but I do not weep and I am at peace. All glory to God.

Anita Steinke

Mount Prospect

Phyllis and two losses

Don and Phyllis Thomson of Huntley with their grandchildren at Christmas 2014
Don and Phyllis Thomson of Huntley with their grandchildren at Christmas 2014 -

I am 73 and have now been widowed twice. My first husband died in 1977 after a 12-year marriage and three children and my second husband died in August 2016 after a 36-year second marriage. My first husband died of thyroid cancer and had been sick before we got married, but they said he was cured and had radioactive iodine treatments and was cancer-free.

I was alone for three years and actively sought out a second marriage partner and father for my three children, who were 7, 11, and 12 when we married; he had no children after a 22-year marriage and ill wife.

My second husband was ill with leukemia for almost a year and a half before he died.

My two experiences were very different. The first time I was overwhelmed with the responsibilities of raising three children with little family support. We had moved out East to Philadelphia for a job and I moved back home to the Chicago area with my children after my husband's death.

Finances were frightening and I had never even paid bills before. I went back to school to become a registered nurse as I had to go to work and had not prepared for anything.

I think one of the more important things I did was to find some young widows like myself to cope with similar experiences.

During that effort was when I kind of accidentally met my second husband. Life was so full and my mother and father were ill, and the time bended into hours, days, and years before I could even look around.

My second husband supported me through my schooling and over the years of our marriage, I worked as an RN and continued on to school to finally achieve my Ph.D. in nursing.

I am still working and teaching nursing in a master's program -- mostly teaching research and nursing education as arthritis has limited my ability to do clinical experiences with students.

The second time getting widowed has been harder. I realized that I have never lived alone. And at 73, I have achieved major goals and am lonely and struggling to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.

Thank goodness for my two daughters, who are constantly there for me. And for my five wonderful grandchildren.

However, they all have their own lives. I see them on a regular basis but everyday life is in actuality just me and my two little Toy Poodles and my crazy Parrot.

No one knows where I go or when I am due home or wants to know what is for dinner.

The waves of emotion at this point come unexpectedly -- like when I sold my larger home and moved into a smaller one; I went into tears when there were two places to sign on the paperwork and only one signature was needed. Only mine.

Over the years, sometimes keeping busy stalled off and packed away the grief, but one must go on.

Everywhere I look, all I see are older couples and I am alone -- especially in church and in the grocery store. Where church could be a support, it feels lonely now.

I am OK, struggling with some health issues, but I am mostly determined to stay independent and not bug my daughters.

I don't go out much anymore. It feels funny to go alone. After years of being outgoing and talkative, now I feel shy in a group.

Grief is work and constantly picking oneself up everyday and trying to find a new direction and identity -- still feeling and remembering but trying something to find joy in everyday, something to be grateful for every day.

Phyllis D. Thomson


Patricia & Jerry

Jerry and Patrica Eitz of Arlington Heights, a few months before Jerry's death.
Jerry and Patrica Eitz of Arlington Heights, a few months before Jerry's death. -

We were together since we were sophomores in high school and were married for 47 years.

Although in my head I knew that day would come, in my heart I never expected it would be so soon. That was almost eight years ago and now I know the pain will never go away.

But I also knew that I had to move forward and I do so every day with a part of me missing.

I've read grief books, had short term therapy, went to grief meetings, took classes, kept working for two years, connected with old friends, developed a new spirituality, made new friends, remained in and take care of my house, retired, help out with my grandchildren, joined book club, meet with friends often, took trips to Europe, had a few surgeries, started volunteering, changed up holidays, tried to be supportive to other widows, became politically involved, celebrated family and friends events, etc. over these years; and none of it fills the hole.

I wanted to just be grateful for those years Jerry and I had together instead of being sad. I thought that would fill the hole.

I can say today that I truly am grateful for those years we had and our life together. I will always be sad but that sadness has become incrementally more manageable.

I have recently realized that I have found "my own voice." That may be for me the gift of widowhood. It's not that I didn't have a voice before Jerry died; but more that we were in many ways symbiotic.

A piece independence that always was a part of me allowed me, during this time of grief, to reinvent myself and become more decisive, courageous and introspective.

Patricia Eitz

Arlington Heights

Gina & Lew

Lew and Gina Hubbard of Hoffman Estates
Lew and Gina Hubbard of Hoffman Estates

Lew and I met in college, married as soon as I graduated and shared 34 years together.

He was 58 years old when he went outside on a beautiful summer Sunday afternoon more than four years ago and, true to his character, helped out a neighbor by mowing their lawn.

He had been in excellent physical health, so it came as a shock to find him in our den, unresponsive.

We had been enjoying time together that summer as we were both high school teachers. School was to start up just a week later.

Our three children had all graduated from college and Lew was determined that our life as empty nesters would be a time of reconnecting to each other and to the activities that we so enjoyed in our early marriage.

One of my first challenges after his death was trying to sleep in the same bed that always held the two of us.

I hated having that empty space next to me and decided to take advice from George Burns. I started sleeping on his side. I kept pillows on my side of the bed.

Somehow, it fooled me enough that I didn't awake as often with a start and have to retell myself the story over and over that he was gone.

Something else that was helpful was having a lifetime of being surrounded by supportive people. We were part of a small group that met weekly in our home for the previous 25 years.

All it took was one phone call and my living room was filled with people who were there to share the burden of hearing the paramedics' news that Lew could not be revived. Everyone needs people they can count on. My family lived far away and gave me their own support that I treasure, but the community around me was incredible in practical ways.

I was not used to being asked out for meals as much as was happening in the weeks and months afterwards, but I accepted each invitation and offer of help.

There were days that I wanted to hide away, but getting out was the best thing to do. I found that talking about my feelings was helpful, even if it meant a few tears in front of others.

I began the school year on time that year. I wanted to keep putting one foot in front of the other and knew that if I didn't begin that first week, I would have dreaded having to face everyone the longer that I stayed away.

Getting back into a routine and being surrounded by witty, albeit corny jokes in my department was therapeutic.

Paperwork was incredibly challenging to face with changes to financial accounts and just about everything requiring staring at that dreaded death certificate.

So, my advice is to give yourself time. You don't have to do everything immediately. Ask someone to walk you through things about which you are unsure.

My brain didn't register a lot of things initially. Fortunately, some of that was the depth of my grief. Slowly, the reality of missing Lew sunk in. When I was at school, ready to have a grief burst, I tried to find a moment to compose myself and pushed it off until I got home.

It could happen anywhere. The grocery store where I saw his favorite nectarines caused a gasp and the waterworks began.

I scheduled time on Saturday mornings to look at memories through videos and photos and to cry as much as I wanted.

Lew was a beloved art teacher and the outpouring of cards, messages and wonderfully creative expressions of students' sympathy filled me with more and more love for him. I had never felt such opposite emotions of joy and sadness simultaneously.

I kept expecting to feel a rage against God for taking the love of my life. What I learned was that I didn't go through all of the "stages of grief" that I had read about. My overwhelming emotion has not been one of "Why me, God?" It was more, "Why not me?" So many others have suffered much more intensely than I. How many people can honestly say that they enjoyed 34 years of marriage? Every time I begin to think I should feel sorry for myself, I am instead reminded to be grateful for friends, family, my job, my home and the incredible community that I have been privileged to enjoy.

Some days it takes more work to adopt that attitude, but I know it in my heart to be true.

Gina Hubbard

Hoffman Estates

Kathleen & Richard

Kathleen Jordan of Arlington Heights and her late husband Richard in their 1963 wedding photo.
Kathleen Jordan of Arlington Heights and her late husband Richard in their 1963 wedding photo.

One never gets over a death of a spouse, but you learn to live with it.

I joined a group at Northwest Community Hospital a short time after my husband passed away. I became a facilitator in the group and was with it almost four years.

The first of all celebrations are very difficult

We shared our story and supported one another. I am still friends with some of the people.

I read books on grieving, kept a journal and had loving family and friends around me. They do not understand how deep your feelings are. It is a long, slow process and you work through it the best you can. Do not feel guilty about having a laugh, going out with friends and being kind to yourself. Everyone goes down the path at their own speed. Your spouse would want you to continue life to the best of your ability.

Kathleen Jordan

Arlington Heights

Jeanne & Darwin

Jeanne and Darwin Jura engagement photo, 1991.
Jeanne and Darwin Jura engagement photo, 1991.

Loss, death. If one lives long enough, exposure is inevitaable. My first encounter was at the tender age of five when I came home from first grade to see my 37-year-old mother pronounced dead from a heart attack. A month later, my father left me with relatives in a distant state, wanted by my aunt, despised by my uncle.

When my twins were born in l962, they weren't expected to survive. One was l-pound, 9 ounces, and the other two-pounds, 2-ounces. They were carried less than seven months, but surprised everyone and lived. Every day was stressful until they were out of danger.

Then in l964, I had a healthy normal baby girl. Two months later, I found her dead from crib death. I wanted to put my head through the wall.

In 1975, when my first husband was diagnosed with lung cancer, we tried everything available to fight it, but he died six months later.

My sons were 12 at the time. Graduation from high school and the milestones in their lives thereafter were hard to attend without him there.

I remarried in August of 1991 after falling deeply in love with a man I had known for l8 years. He was the love of my life.

After a fantastic honeymoon in Hawaii, we had three weeks of settling into a normal married routine when he turned yellow and was diagnosed with cancer of the bile duct.

We were supposed to live happily ever after. How could this be happening to us?

We did everything, Mayo Clinic, research, interviewing treatment centers, etc. but we ended up losing our battle four months later.

For three wonderful years, I had been on top of the world. I thought, after a lifetime of heartache and losses that it was finally time for me to be happy.

A year later, my grandson was born and lived a month before dying of crib death. It would be easy to be bitter and cynical, but I choose not to be. I do not blame God for my losses; I have had a good, rich life.

But every once in a while, I wonder why things went as they did. Moms shopping with daughters, couples walking hand in hand; things they take for granted, I have had only the briefest exposure to.

I know it's not easy, but I must stay focused on what I have and not dwell on what I don't have.

Perhaps some day it will all make sense, but until that time, walk with me, Lord. Give me the peace that surpasses all understanding until this journey brings me home.

Jeanne Jurs


Sharon & Roy

Roy and Sharon Strobe
Roy and Sharon Strobe -

My husband Roy died November 27, 2016. Although his health had been deteriorating, it was a shock when a neighbor knocked on my door and said, "I think something happened to Roy."

He had been on his new lawn tractor, someone driving by saw him slumped backward on it, thought that it looked odd and called 911.

When I got somewhat close to the scene, I was informed by someone in uniform that things did not look good for him, but they were doing everything they could.

After what seemed like ages, it was decided to take him to the hospital. When I arrived there, I was met by the chaplain so I knew what the outcome was,

My consolation has been that he did not have any lengthy hospital or nursing home stay. For him, death was quick. I am happy about that.

The tractor was stopped near a large Christmas angel that had recently been placed in the yard. My daughter said, "It's just like Dad has been called to heaven."

Those words stuck with me and I wrote the following poem, which I read at Roy's funeral service:

Called to Heaven

He's been called to heaven

And I should be sad

But in my heart I'm very glad.

I know I'll miss him very much

His stupid jokes and loving touch

His attention-getting walking crutch.

It's the little things over 50 years

Like "Park right here" or "use these gears"

"Get me some water" or "Grab a beer."

I'll miss seeing him in the yard

Struggling to do tasks that had become hard

Or straining his eyes for a game of cards.

He's been called to heaven

And I should be sad

But in my heart, I'm very glad.

He loves his friends and family

And things -- treasured junk, broken and rusty

Old tools, wood scraps, toy cars getting dusty.

He knew his body and mind were slowing

But he tried to just keep going and going

He wanted everything done before this showing.

The Lord stepped in and settled the score

He doesn't need to worry any more

God has opened his welcoming door.

He's been called to heaven

And I should be sad

But in my heart, I'm very glad.

How am I doing? Lots of people ask me that. I think I'm doing pretty well. I still am concerned about legal, financial and maintenance issues, but then I think about all the other widows and widowers who have dealt with these matters and have managed to carry on. They are my role models.

Besides, I have a strong faith and take it to the Lord in prayer. I know He will provide my every need.

And my family has been a big help. Thanks, Ken, Sheryl and Steve.

Sharon Stobe

Mount Prospect

Last Kiss rose


Patty & Corey: The Heartbreak.

Diana & Joe: A widow's advice: Embrace bereavement, don't avoid it A Straight From the Source story.

Janice & Joe A story of someday A Straight From the Source story

Janice & Joe Five lessons I've learned so far A Straight From the Source story

Patty & Corey: The Love Story.

Patricia & Tim: A widow cherishes the memories of her warrior A Straight From the Source story

Last Kiss: Bill & Marian: A love that lives in dreams A Straight From the Source story

Embracing a widower's grief: I reread her letters, I played her favorite songs A Straight From the Source story

A Buffalo Grove widower's cry: Just Let Me Talk A Straight From the Source story

Patty & Corey: A widow wishes she had asked for one more kiss.

Stories of loss from our readers

For more on the series, please click here.

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