The morning after his 91-year-old mother died of a stroke, Rulon Wells IV sat down in his home office with his wife, Marsha, to write her obituary. They were in the middle of choosing an old black-and-white photograph of Virginia Wells in her prime when the phone rang.
"Rulon? You'd better get over here in a hurry," said the nurse at Bountiful's Avalon Care Center. "I don't think your dad is going to make it."
The couple rushed to the care facility, but 90-year-old Rulon Wells III was already unconscious. He died minutes later of natural causes, about 30 hours after he lost his sweetheart of 63 years.
That afternoon, the Wellses hurriedly put together two obituaries, which appeared side by side, just as Rulon III and Virginia were always seen.
"It's a love story," says Rulon during a Free Lunch chat a few days after his parents' deaths. "I think my mom had a hand in calling Dad home. ... She probably saw him sadly sitting there and said, 'Come on let's go.' Even though it was sad and shocking to lose both of them at once, it's also kind of beautiful."
Although long-married couples sometimes die within weeks or months of one another, funeral directors say they rarely see cases where deaths are separated by hours.
"Our director said he's only seen this a few times in 40 years," says Rulon, "but to me, this was a good thing. My parents were very close in life and had a lot of love for each other. They didn't want death to keep them apart."
On Memorial Day, Rulon, 60, and his brother, David, will fondly recall being raised by two inquisitive parents who took them everywhere from backyard camping trips to art gallery openings. Rulon III was a philosophy professor at Yale University, while Virginia taught French and was the assistant dean of women at Drake University.
When they met, they were instantly attracted to each other's love of language and natural curiosity about the mysteries of life, says Rulon. After they married and settled in New Haven, Conn., they passed along those same gifts to their sons through trips to the museum, long hikes and bird-watching expeditions and spirited conversations around the dinner table.
"They both set good examples of hard work and integrity," says Rulon, but there was a down side to being raised by such accomplished parents.
"You could never win an argument," he says, "especially with my dad. He was a very rational thinker and you couldn't beat his logic. He always had the right answer, which was pretty frustrating for a teenager."
Twenty-five years after Rulon moved west to attend college and become a respiratory therapist, his parents joined him so they could be closer to their grandchildren. For a time, they lived in the Avenues in Salt Lake City until failing eyesight necessitated that they move to an assisted care center near Rulon's home in Bountiful.
When the call came from the hospital about his mother, Rulon's greatest concern was how to break the news to his dad. "He got very teary-eyed," he recalls, "but he calmed himself, gave a wave goodbye and told me the usual: 'Have fun."'
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