Vanderbilt Bedford Hospital (Shelbyville, TN) / Facebook
Virginia and Tommy Stevens’s life-long journey, which spanned nearly seven decades, came to an end in a heartwarming but heartbreaking final chapter that happened at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“He was awake when she came in,” their daughter Karen Kreager told VUMC Voice. “His eyes were open. He wasn’t communicating a lot — just in small whispers. But he knew that she was there and that she was going to be right beside him. They haven’t stopped holding hands the whole time. She won’t let go of him.”
Tommy Stevens, born on a crisp Christmas Day in 1931 in Kingsport, and Virginia McKarem, born in Jefferson City in March of the same year, were seemingly destined to cross paths. Their love story began when Virginia’s family relocated to Kingsport, and the young hearts met at Dobyns-Bennett High School. From that moment, they became inseparable childhood sweethearts, forging a bond that would last all their lives.
Their journey continued as they pursued higher education at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, eventually leading to their marriage in 1954. As they embarked on the adventure of life together, Tommy’s service in the U.S. Army had them living in various corners of the country. Yet, their hearts remained firmly attached to their love for Tennessee.
After their military service, Tommy and Virginia settled in Memphis, where they raised a son and a daughter, Greg and Karen, and laid the foundation for Distribution and Transportation Services, Inc. (DTS), a thriving transportation and logistics company. Life was full, and their love for each other and their family grew stronger with each passing day.
As the years rolled on and their children began to build their own lives, Tommy and Virginia decided to retire and moved to Franklin, a charming community just outside of Nashville. Here, they had the joy of being grandparents, attending school activities, and cheering on their grandchildren at sporting events. Their retirement years were going on beach vacations and the simple pleasure of one another’s company, creating cherished memories together.
However, as the sands of time continued to flow, Tommy’s health began to decline. Alzheimer’s became a part of their story, but Virginia remained by his side, a steadfast companion through every twist and turn. Tommy was eventually moved to Brighton Gardens in Brentwood, where he received specialized care. Virginia’s presence provided him comfort and peace.
Their love story reached its emotional high when Tommy faced breathing difficulties at the memory care unit. Rushed to Vanderbilt, he was subsequently moved to the Medical Center’s Palliative Care Unit. In an ironic twist of fate, Virginia, too, found herself in the hospital after a fall on the very morning Tommy was admitted.
In a heartwarming reunion facilitated by the hospital staff, the couple, who had spent nearly seven decades together, were once again united. Amidst the challenges and uncertainties of their medical conditions, their love remained as strong as ever. Hand in hand, they faced life’s ultimate journey together, proving that true love lasts a lifetime.
Dr. Mohana Karlekar, the medical director of VUMC’s adult Palliative Care Program, eloquently captured the essence of their story, saying, “We take care of people — husbands, wives, mothers, fathers — not patients. We brought this family together during one of their most difficult times with little effort on our part. From the time we brought Mrs. Stevens over, she held her husband’s hand and fussed in a very loving way with him. She was able to tell me Monday that she was at peace with what was going on, and she wanted to be there until the end.”
In their final moments, they held hands, reminding each other they were there for each other until the last moment. Tommy passed away on September 8th at the age of 91 and Virginia died nine days later. Virginia and Tommy Stevens’ love story is a straight-up tearjerker!
Below, you can watch a story about another couple who was married for 69 years and died just 40 minutes apart from one another.