In Memoriam

We lost Arden Grace Stephens Schilb this week. For sixty-five years, the wife of Bill’s older brother, John.

When Bill and I met at a widowed retreat in 1985 and became serious in what seemed to some to be an inordinate hurry, there was a bit of grumbling amongst people who had been friends with Bill and his first wife, Lynn, to the effect that I was claiming to be a widow, but that I was really a divorcée with a couple of kids “looking for a free ride.” It’s true that I had been divorced from my husband for eighteen months before his death, but having spent eighteen years with the man, the feelings of loss I felt were intense.

In a chance meeting, Bill and I discovered that we had lost our previous spouses two years apart. Lynn Schilb lost her seven year battle with breast cancer on New Year’s Eve of 1984/85. My former husband succumbed to kidney and liver failure on New Year’s Eve 1982-83. They both died a few minutes before midnight.

At the time we met, I was a newly published author. Bill’’s and my first date was the grand opening party for the first Beaumont book, Until Proven Guilty. When we first married, his earnings vastly outpaced mine, and for the first few years he was the primary breadwinner for our blended families. As Bill likes to say, however, he knew how to back a winning horse. Ten years later our situations reversed. He was able to retire from what they call “working outside the home.” Since then he has handled the business part of our business. In other words, “I write the books; he writes the checks.”

With few exceptions, the people who had been friends with Bill and Lynn dropped by the wayside. That was not the case with his family, however. They realized at once that we were in love and that we were good for each other. As a consequence, they welcomed me with open arms—and that included John and Arden.

From the 1970s on, they lived in Aiken, South Carolina, where Arden was a teacher and John sold real estate. At one point, John told Bill that “Arden could teach a fence post to read.” They lived a continent away. Through the years, we didn’t see all that much of them, but when we did—at weddings, vacations, anniversaries, and funerals—they were always accepting of Bill’s and my relationship, including my new-to-the-family insistence on keeping my own name.

On Christmas Eve last year, they were both felled by cases of the flu that landed them them in the ICU. After three weeks in the ICU, John recovered enough to be released. Arden’s flu morphed into pneumonia that put her on a ventilator for a while. She stayed on in the ICU where they discovered a previously undiagnosed heart-valve complication. Surgeons needed her to recover her lung function before attempting a surgical solution the the heart problem. Two months after being admitted to the hospital, she was transferred to a rehab facility.

In February I had speaking events in Palm Beach, Florida, and Savannah, Georgia. Since those were both in the near neighborhood of Aiken, we decided to go there to visit. We stopped by the house for a quick lunch and then went to Arden’s rehab place. She was up, dressed, and eating lunch—and in far better shape than I had expected.

It happened that our visit occurred on Valentine’s Day. Before we left the house, John made sure that he had his bouquet of flowers and a collection of Valentines well in hand. While we visited, Arden opened her Valentines and examined every word of every verse contained there in. It was clear that the Valentines John had chosen spoke to her, and that reading them meant something—something important. That will be my last memory of Arden, sitting there reading those Valentine’s greetings and savoring every word.

Shortly after we left for Georgia, John and Arden’s kids moved them into an assisted living facility in Huntsville, Alabama, where they could be closer to their daughter, Susan, and where Arden could receive comprehensive round-the-clock nursing care. Shortly after that move, the pneumonia returned, and she passed away earlier this week.

The memorial service will be in Alabama this weekend. We’re not going. We were there while she was still alive, and that’s more important than being faces in the crowd at a funeral. Bill has been in touch with John several times. Bill was widowed thirty plus years ago, and he knows what John is going through. He’s anxious to return home. He checked into assisted living because it was what Arden needed. But he wants to be in familiar places. He wants to do his own cooking. He wants his independence back.

Up until last Christmas, John and Arden had managed on their own fairly well, assisted by an aide who came in a few hours each day. Now John is eighty-nine years old, and his loving mate of more than sixty years is gone, leaving him to continue the journey on his own. I’m sure it’ll be tough, but I’m also pretty sure he’ll be able to carry on.

When I married into this family some thirty years ago, one of the first things I noticed was that Schilbs tend to be a pretty stubborn lot. Its an integral part of their DNA. That can be a bit frustrating at times, but when times are tough, a pocketful of stubborn can be a very good thing.

26 thoughts on “In Memoriam

  1. I’m sorry for your loss. And thank you for sharing your memories of your sister and brother in law. By coincidence, I was in South Carolina (from WA) at the same time you were this year. SC would be an interesting place for Beau to pursue a cold case!

  2. A touching story as usual. You lucked out getting great relatives. You must have a lot of good memories. I agree with Joyce (above) who posted that you can remember her while living.

  3. I am saddened by your loss. The loss of a family member is never easy. My condolences to Bill, his brother, you, and the entire family. It must be a blessing that you and Bill had a good visit so recently.

  4. Many memories will be with him in his oldneighborhood, I am sure. Good luck to him. My brother stayed in his home after his wife of 60 years passed. Stubborn runs in our family too! Happy for Bill and you that you were able to visit recently. The Special Day left nice memories.

  5. So sorry for your and Bill’s loss. My 98-year-old mother died this past Sunday. We knew it was coming sometime soon, but it’s still a shock to the system when it happens. I think you are wise in choosing to remember Arden the way you saw her last. Memories keep our loved ones alive in our hearts.

      • My condolences for you loss. There is no time and no way that loss becomes easier. May the memories in your hearts help bring you peace in this sad time.

  6. So sorry to hear of Arden’s death from pneumonia. It can be a horrible disease – my 72 year old cousin just died of it last week.

  7. I am sorry that your family is facing this tough loss. Sending prayers of peace for all who loved her.

    Jeanie Jackson

  8. Such a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing. I lost my husband 27 years ago at the age of 50 and it’s still hard. And my son 5 years ago at age 52. I try to remember to be happy for what I did have and not what I no longer have. Thankful for those years they were here.
    I’ll see you in a few hours in Burien.

  9. Nice sentiment about your friends loss.My wife and i married while i was in RAF 59 years ago come this July and we are seldom apart.I dread the day we are no longer together even it may only be for a short time. Hope you and husband stay well.

  10. Strong, loving family will see him through: he has so many wonderful memories to last his lifetime: glad you are close to Bill’s family…

  11. So sorry for the loses of Bill and John. It still always hurts. I know at some
    point there will come a day when others will join us making me one of the worst for my sister as I no longer can meet anyone to enjoy alone. Smiles and remember your laughs.

  12. Our condolences in your loss. An apt perspective this afternoon, as my husband is burying his older brother, best friend.
    An impatient and active guy, he mercifully passed instantly of a massive heart attack after a fine coop Easter dinner in a senior community.
    Now we’re both the eldest in our respective families. We are grateful to have survived to be so. Aging is a blessing, but frightening, too.
    L.M.

  13. My heart goes out to you, Bill, and Bill’s family. Even when death ends suffering, it still hurts those left behind. My husband has been dead one year as of this past Wednesday and I still (sometimes) cry for him. Thank you, Ms. Jance for sharing your memories with us. It is wonderful you are able to visit Arden and have a fond “last” memory of her. Thank you for being you.

  14. My deep condolences to Bill’s family, especially John. We lived in Aiken from 1990-2005. My children basically grew up there, all graduating from the same high school. Many wonderful, happy memories are from living there. I am glad you both were able to visit there & have happy memories to sustain you through this time. God bless.

  15. I am sorry to hear of your family’s loss. I’m sure John will be comforted being back in their home where so many memories were made and years were spent. Loneliness is the probably the toughest issue after the funeral when everyone else goes back to their normal life and he has a gaping hole in his. Having someone come in during the week would probably help

  16. I remember your story of joining Bill’s family before and admired how it all worked out for the best. I am so sorry for your loss, and for John…how sad he must live out his time without her. I wish God would take spouses away at the same hour.

  17. My sincere sympathy to you and Bill on your loss of Arden. She and John sound like wonderful people. I hope John is able to regain his independence and live many more years, happily. Losing a spouse is hard: I lost mine five years ago after 56 great years together, so I am still adjusting.

    Please keep writing: I love your books!

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