Together to the end

Married 50 years, couple die 48 hours apart
Dec. 20, 2013 @ 08:08 AM

Fred Rash figured out quickly how to keep his marriage to a 5-foot 3-inch fireball of a woman intact for 50 years. Everything Wilma wanted, he got.

Wilma died in her room at the Brian Center in Hickory on Monday. Within 48 hours, Fred died in another room at the Brian Center. Their son, Greg Rash of Sampson, doesn't think it was a coincidence.

"I believe it was Mom telling him from heaven, 'Get on up here, let's go,'" he said.

For the past two years,  the couple had been in nursing homes in the area with various health issues. Wilma Rash suffered from Crohn's disease, and Fred Rash had Alzheimer's disease. Fred, the family disciplinarian, began to mellow.

But Fred Rash once had a wild side. At least that's what he always had told Greg. According to that story, his wild ways led to him meeting Wilma Wilson.

"He said he was playing poker and drinking liquor at a house near where she lived," Greg said. "He said the cops were after him, so he ran to her house where she was digging sweet potatoes, and he knelt down right beside her and started digging too. She told him he was doing a terrible job of it."

They started dating, and got married on April 27, 1963, in Lebanon, Va. They raised three children -- Loretta, Tony and Greg. Fred Rash worked as a sawmiller, building his own business and then with Corpening Sawmill and Lumber Co. They bought a home off Countryside Drive in Granite Falls, then moved to Orchard Drive. Then Wilma Rash wanted to move again.

"She got a wild hair and decided to move to Dry Ponds Road about 11 years ago," Greg Rash said. "Everything Mama wanted, Daddy got."

When the Alzheimer's began to steal Fred Rash's memory, and Wilma Rash's health began to decline, they were moved out of their Dry Ponds Road home and into nursing home care, eventually to the Brian Center, she on one hall and he on another. Greg Rash said he often would wheel his father into his mother's room so they could be together. Sometime he would recognize her, but most of the time he did not. Two months ago, doctors said they needed to remove Wilma Rash's colon and fix the damage from a ruptured appendix. She didn't want a colostomy bag, so she told doctors not to operate.

On Friday, she wasn't feeling well. Greg Rash said he felt the end was near, and hospice was called to ease his mother's pain. On Saturday, Greg Rash wheeled his father into her room, but she didn't feel up to the company. On Sunday, she asked for pain medication. On Monday morning the nursing home called Greg, saying his mother was dying. By 11:45 a.m., she was gone.

"The nurse told me that Daddy came up to Wilma on Saturday and told her he loved her," Greg Rash said.

Greg Rash did not tell his father of her death.

"I did not know how he would process it," he said.

Wilma Rash was to be buried on Wednesday. Greg Rash, busy with the funeral arrangements, did not come to the Brian Center on Tuesday. Wednesday morning, the Brian Center called.