Through their 63 years of marriage, the Winsteads grew closer and closer. So perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that hours after Delores drew her last breath, Trent's heart literally broke.
“They were devoted to each other,” says their daughter, Sheryl Winstead, who moved back into her parents' Nashville home after losing her house in a flood in 2010. “They did everything together.”
One of the highlights of their days was to watch the late-night news together. “He would come up at 9:30 every night and they would watch it together, holding hands,” Sheryl, 57, remembers.
Up until late November, Delores, 83, and Trent, 88, had been remarkably self-sufficient, doing everything on their own.
Then Trent fell. Though there were no serious injuries, he started to lose his appetite and within a couple of weeks had stopped eating altogether. From that point, he just went downhill, Sheryl says.
When Trent started vomiting, Sheryl and her mom took him to the emergency room, where doctors determined his kidneys were shutting down, possibly due to the effects of one of the drugs he was taking.
Sheryl tried to prepare her mother for the worst: “Mom, he could go at any second.”
After a moment, Delores looked at her daughter and said, “I just don’t know how I could live without him.”
The next day, after doing laundry, Delores headed back to the hospital with her daughter to sit by Trent’s bedside.
Because Delores had a habit of falling asleep while sitting up, nobody thought anything was amiss when she slumped over in her chair. But when her son eventually tried to wake her, it became clear that something was wrong.
Doctors rushed Delores to the emergency room. A scan of her brain showed that a blood vessel had burst and “half her skull had filled with blood,” Sheryl remembers.
The hospital staff, whom Delores had been regaling just a short time earlier with “sweet little conversations” about the couple’s marriage, decided to move her to a bed in the same room with her husband.
“I think they were so impressed with how close my parents were,” Sheryl says.
The family delayed telling Trent the bad news, but eventually they had to let him know.
As he absorbed the information, Trent got quiet. “I was supposed to go first,” he told his daughter sadly. “I don’t know who I will sit on the couch with and watch the 10 o'clock news with.”
Though no one knows for sure, doctors suspected that Delores's brain bleed might have been at least been partially caused by the stress of seeing her husband so sick.
Ironically, the kidney specialist had told the family that Trent might recover with three or four more dialysis treatments. But after Trent learned that his wife was dying, “his heart began to fail,” Sheryl says. “His kidneys were trying to recuperate, but he was literally dying of a broken heart.”
On December 9 at 9 p.m., Delores passed away. At 4 p.m. the following day, Trent’s heart gave out. Their 64th wedding anniversary would have been on January 17.
“In one sense it’s a super sweet story, and in another it’s super sad,” Sheryl says. “I know they are together and happy for eternity, and that is a comfort to me. But I never in a million years dreamed I would walk out of the hospital without either one of them.”
Still, Sheryl finds comfort in “knowing that so many people have been touched by their story.”