Jerome and Diane Pawlak were married in 1951 and died only moments apart.
‘Neither one wanted to start the next chapter without each other,’ says son
It was just after midnight, and Diane Pawlak sat in the intensive care unit at her husband’s bedside — the man she married nearly 62 years ago when she was just 19. The man who worked for 41 years at Miller Brewery to support their five sons. The man she spent so many days with — at their Bay View bungalow, at their wooded Crandon getaway.
“Goodbye, Jerry,” she said as she held his hand. “You can go.”
Then she clutched her chest, slumped back in her chair.
“I knew right away she was gone,” said her son Jerry. He went to the emergency room with her, where a doctor confirmed what he and his brother already knew.
His brother Joe had stayed with their father, hospitalized with a fever and infection related to leukemia.
The sons met in an ER hallway.
“Is Dad gone?” Jerry asked Joe. He nodded.
“Mom’s gone, too,” Jerry told him.
The Bay View life
Jerome Pawlak and Diane Lepak grew up in Bay View a few blocks apart. She was friends with one of his sisters — that’s how she met Jerry. They married on Nov. 24, 1951, Thanksgiving weekend. She’d just graduated from St. Mary’s Academy. He’d just gotten out of the service, having served in the Army.
Together, they built the simple life that they had always wanted. He worked at Miller Brewing, in the bottling house. She worked for about a decade as a checkout clerk at the Kohl’s food store on Howell Ave. Later, she worked as the bookkeeper at St. Sebastian Church and for the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi.
From 1965 to 1995, they raised their family in a bungalow on California St. in Bay View, socializing with a close group of friends who met for steak dinners and birthdays. When someone in the group turned 40, they got a pie in the face.
“You never knew who was going to give it to you, or when,” Jerry Pawlak said. But the pie was delivered.
Diane Pawlak played the accordion, organ and banjo.
“Simple, fun times — that’s what they were,” Jerry said. “It was just what you did then — you get married, you raise five kids.
“They were not flashy. They cared deeply about their five sons, their daughters-in-law, their grandchildren,” he added. “Family friends and their Catholic faith — that’s how they went through life.”
There was one other thing: There was no Jerome without Diane.
“They didn’t go separately anywhere. It was together,” he said. “My mother was the stronger personality. My father was the silent type. My mother discussed everything with him, and no decision would be made unless both of them agreed on it. My mom did lay down the law in the house, but if my father had to come in and say anything, we knew we were really in trouble.”
In 1970, they bought 80 acres of wooded land near Crandon. They called it Pawlak’s Daisy Acres, put a mobile home on it, and added a screened porch to it. They built sheds. There was fishing and swimming and mini-bikes.
Jerome found projects. “They were laborers. Workers. They always kept busy,” Jerry said.
In 1995, the couple moved to a ranch house in South Milwaukee.
In January, Jerome was diagnosed with leukemia, and he had been in and out of the hospital ever since. He went to the Wheaton Franciscan Hospital in Franklin late Tuesday with a fever of 104. By 11:45 p.m., 86-year-old Jerome was “coding” — cardiac arrest — and a medical team revived him. Shortly after midnight Wednesday, he was in a room, his 81-year-old wife seated at his side, his sons nearby.
“His breathing was getting shallower and shallower, and my mom was holding his hand. My mom was just kind of saying her goodbyes to him,” their son Jerry said. She died of an apparent heart attack.
Their sons debated whether to talk about how their parents left life. Would they have wanted that?
“My parents, they were simple people. They did not look for attention,” Jerry said. “You try to honor them as best you can, their lives together. The love. To start the next chapter of eternal life together, it was just fitting for my parents.”
The sons call it a blessing.
“In a sense we take relief, that there was no suffering,” Jerry said.
“We think that she wanted to go with him. They were truly inseparable. And I think neither one wanted to start the next chapter without each other,” he said.
[Hat tip: Carla - tx-beautiful!]