For 67 years, Gen and Ralph Heller from London, Ontario, lived their lives together and to the fullest — entertaining friends, running businesses, and traveling the world.
And when their health began to decline, and intervention would not improve their quality of life, the couple decided to leave this world, together, on their own terms. On September 20, just two months before their 68th wedding anniversary, the lovebirds held hands and died together.
Ralph is 91 years old and Gen is 92 years old.
“They lived for their family and friends, and they were two of the nicest, most generous people. It was a love story,” daughter Lois Heller told CBC London.
Gen is known for his cuisine, both Polish and Canadian, his delicious recipes compiled in a book by his children. Ralph coached hockey and baseball, and earned two impressive holes-in-ones at Forest City Golf Club. They raised four children, and have seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Ralph and Gen are set on a blind date by friends and their love blossoms, says Greg Heller.
“I think they met and they were very attracted to each other and became very much in love with each other,” he said.
Ralph used to walk from St. Catharines, where he lives, to the Kitchener area, where Gen lives, for a date, their children said.
Gen Heller attended flight attendant school in the early 1950s, and worked on the pharmacology faculty of Western University and is known for his cooking and preservation. She is the daughter of Polish immigrants.
Ralph Heller was active in sports, playing hockey, football and baseball and eventually coaching, as well as taking part in Scouting activities with his son.
“They love to have family and friends and mom will cook these amazing meals and dad is always in charge of getting everything ready. He will vacuum the house and clean the pool and get the pool and gardens ready to look spectacular,” said Lois Hell.
“She has a beautiful rose garden that she takes care of, they have a vegetable garden, so we always have the most amazing food.”
The Hellers opened a small gift shop in the early 1970s and named it Flamboyant Boutique. In 1974 they moved to Oxbury Mall and renamed the business The China Cabinet, adding a line of fine china to their inventory. A few years later, a second location opened on Richmond Street.
Gen and Ralph lead “very healthy lives” to date. Ralph was diagnosed a year ago with Lewy body dementia, and Gen had a cyst on his shoulder that left him unable to feed himself and was in great pain, their children said.
“Their quality of life is declining and they’ve been talking about (medical assistance in death) and about a week ago they called us kids and they told us they wanted to do it together,” said Lois Heller. “It was their wish and they held hands and walked together.”
The children were grateful they had time to say goodbye, he said.
“Mum and dad have had this amazing life and I think it makes it easier … and to see them graduate with dignity and not have to suffer anymore.”
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