Idaho couple dies hours apart after 55 years together

CALDWELL, Idaho (AP) -- Their family described it as the perfect ending to a 55-year love story.

On Sept. 17, Ana Maria Chavez died hand-in-hand with her husband, Domingo Chavez. The couple was in the room they shared at their son's Caldwell home. Their hands were resting on a heart-shaped pillow.

Shortly after that, Domingo followed his wife and died on his 76th birthday.

"I never thought it would happen this way," said Freddie Chavez, the couple's oldest son.

Their family raised money for a service on Sept. 20 to celebrate the couple whose union brought eight children, 30 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren.

Domingo and Ana Maria were rarely apart, especially in their last days. They had both been through a series of health problems and were diagnosed with dementia. On some days, Ana Maria seemed to do better than Domingo. On other days, it was the opposite, their son said.

Eventually, Ana Maria was being kept alive only by the defibrillator in her pacemaker. Domingo took a turn for the worse, and the family took him to the hospital. He was taken off life support at midnight, but stayed alive until the next day. The hospital told the family they could take him home or keep him in the hospital.

"Our decision was to bring them home so they could be together," their granddaughter Kayla Paz said.

Because of that, the couple was able to spend their last hours side-by-side, hand-in-hand.

The couple met in Texas in 1958 and married in 1961. They moved to Idaho and worked on various farms over the years. Both retired from Roger Brothers farm, Domingo after 19 years there and Ana Maria after 14 years. They loved their children and grandchildren.

"Thanksgiving was my mom's favorite holiday," said Erlinda Chavez Mendoza, the couple's youngest daughter. "She loved making food and having enough for everybody to come over and eat."

Their grandchildren also have fond memories of the couple and recall how their grandfather would give them money on their birthdays - a dollar for each year.

"Everyone who knows my grandpa knew him as a big charmer," said granddaughter Amanda Chavez. "He was a strong man."

In 2011, Domingo and Ana Maria renewed their vows in Texas on their 50th wedding anniversary.

Freddie Chavez and his wife, Gloria, moved his parents into their home and cared for them when their health began to deteriorate. Domingo and Ana Maria spent their days always together. They watched their favorite show, "Bonanza," and couldn't stand to be apart. Ana Maria couldn't sleep unless Domingo was with her.

"She would knock on the wall and call out `Mingo,'" Freddie said.

Freddie began to see a change in them in the last two weeks before they died. The dementia was getting worse, and it was becoming hard.

"Dementia is one word I will hate for the rest of my life," Freddie said. "I wouldn't want to see anyone go through that, because they really suffer a lot."

It was stormy the evening when the couple died. As the family prayed together, they saw what appeared to them to be two faces in the clouds. That was followed by a double rainbow. It was a moment that touched them on that difficult day and a final special memory of their beloved parents and grandparents.

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