Living Without Arch
by Ellen Thommesen
My grandparents always held hands. Even into their 70s, they reminded me of newlyweds, excited to show each other affection any chance they got.
Arch Leean, my grandfather, was studying abroad when he proposed to Mary through a letter. As soon as she read it she hopped on a boat to England to spend the rest of her life with him. They got married with their cab driver as the witness.
Married life was full of adventure. They lived in England, traveled Europe on a scooter, moved to New York City then to California where their two daughters were born. They finally settled as a family in Northfield, Minnesota where Arch was an art professor and Mary was a foreign student administrator at St. Olaf College. Settled in but always traveling, they frequently went on study abroad trips with students to places like Thailand and the Middle East. Camping trips, road trips, backpacking trips, you name it, the Leean family did it.
I couldn’t have asked for a better example of love than my grandparents. They were happily married for 56 years, completely devoted until death parted them.
Arch’s health began deteriorating in his late 70s, and he was diagnosed with a rare degenerative brain disease called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. After a 3-year battle with the disease, he passed away in April, 2011. Mary served as his primary caregiver in order to keep him at home with her in the dream house they built for their retirement.
After a lifetime of companionship, love, and raising a family together, Mary is left alone. She has transformed from a wife into a widow.
The loss of her husband has not been easy, and the transition into widower has been a difficult one. She notices that people speak to her in softer tones and often treat her differently now that she is alone. Many offer advice for how she should cope with her loss. Even though she acknowledges they are telling her what would help them in the situation, she believes grief is very personal. Everyone experiences it differently.
Mary chooses to embrace sadness when it comes and relish in the good memories of her life with Arch. She loves telling stories about him to my younger brother and I every time we see her. She feels blessed to have had so much time with such a great man and will continue the healing process with the help of family and friends.