Robert J. and Rosalie J. Przybylak, both gravely ill, sat side by side last Friday, together in his room at Elderwood Health Care in Cheektowaga.
It would be the last time.
“Neither one could really talk,” said one of their nine children, Thomas. “They just held hands. They were kind of comforting each other – one more time.”
Robert Przybylak died the next morning, at age 88.
Less than 45 hours later, early Monday morning, Rosalie Przybylak joined him in death, also in Elderwood. She was 83.
And Wednesday morning, they will be buried together, following almost 62 years of marriage.
“It couldn’t have happened any other way for them,” Thomas Przybylak said. “It was like the end of a fairy tale.
“It’s tragic, but it’s almost beautifully tragic,” he added. “When one got sick, you saw the pain in the other one’s face. When they were sick, they always took care of each other, and then they couldn’t take care of each other.”
Neither death was a surprise.
Rosalie Przybylak had suffered two strokes in the last few months.
Her husband hadn’t eaten solid foods for the last six weeks, before and after gastrointestinal surgery. Last week, doctors in Erie County Medical Center said there was little more they could do for him, suggesting hospice care.
“Take me off the machines,” he said last Thursday. “I need to go back to my bride.”
The next morning, back at Elderwood, Rosalie was wheeled into her husband’s room for the daylong last reunion, as almost all of the couple’s more than two dozen children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered to say goodbye.
“I think they knew what was happening, that their time on earth was short,” Thomas Przybylak said of his parents.
Following Mr. Przybylak’s death, their children had to tell their mother.
“We told her, ‘Dad’s gone,’ ” Thomas Przybylak said. “We didn’t get much of an expression, but she knew he was gone.”
Thoughts of their parents being together now, forever, provide some comfort for the survivors.
Their son Thomas said he couldn’t imagine standing with one of them and seeing the other one in the casket.
“We’re crushed because we lost them,” he said. “But knowing that one of them didn’t have to be alone without the other, that gives us peace.”
The couple’s storybook romance dates back to the early 1950s, when they met at a firehall dance in Cheektowaga. One night, the couple made a brief stop at St. Josaphat Catholic Church, where he knelt at the altar and proposed. They married in 1954.
Both were active with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and they earned a reputation as parents to all the children in their Cheektowaga neighborhood.
“Their house was the place where everyone hung out,” their son Thomas said. “It was like the safe house in the neighborhood.”
The Przybylaks absolutely loved traveling, especially in retirement, and Robert Przybylak visited 49 states in his lifetime, all but Hawaii.
“Rose” Przybylak was a retired purchasing agent at Marine Midland/HSBC Bank in Buffalo. In her younger years, she participated in the St. Josaphat Church Adult Choir and Folk Group for more than 20 years, as well as serving as a Eucharistic minister for 10 years. Besides being a volunteer for Meals on Wheels and Hospice, she also had a pair of “presidential” moments; she was a member of the “Simon’s Angels” song group that performed at the White House for President Bill Clinton, and much earlier, she wrote an epic poem memorializing President John F. Kennedy that was published in local newspapers and brought a personal thank-you from his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy.
Known as “Presby,” Robert Przybylak graduated from Hutchinson Central High School, served as an aviation metalsmith in the U.S. Navy after World War II and spent his last 43 working years as a salesman and beer-truck driver for Try-It Distributing. He also belonged to the American Legion Francis J. Donovan Post 1626 in Cheektowaga, spent much of his spare time serving the St. Josaphat Holy Name Society in many capacities and enjoyed camping and fishing, besides the traveling.
The Przybylaks are survived by five daughters, Bonnie Platt, Patricia, Karen, Sharon and Pauline Brownschidle; four sons, Robert, Mark, Dr. John and Thomas; 16 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Robert Przybylak also is survived by one brother, John “Jocko” and three sisters, Geraldine Schutta, Eleanor Koska and Loretta Benczkowski.
Rosalie is survived by three brothers, Joseph, John and Michael Przemielewski; and five sisters, Marie Cegielski, Veronica Watts, Frances Proeto, Sylvia Przemielewski and Margaret Topor.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Resurrection Church, Como Park Boulevard at Union Road, Cheektowaga.
And then the Przybylaks will be buried together, in St. Matthew’s Cemetery, West Seneca.
As their son Thomas said, “They deserve to be together, forever.”