Somehow, a true love story never really ends
By Laurie Roberts
The Republic | azcentral.com
He can still recall what she was wearing the first time he saw her all those years ago. She was dressed in red, like dynamite, and whatever defenses he had were immediately blown to smithereens.
We are talking by phone, but I can hear the smile that briefly lifts the sadness from his voice as he remembers that day and the ones that followed.
Those memories are a blessing now, one that will carry Ron Pfeiffer through this week and beyond as he prepares to live without Sandra.
I wrote about the Glendale couple a month ago when Ron called me to laud the care provided to them by Hospice of the Valley.
"I was wondering," he asked me on Monday, "if you would write an obituary."
Of course, I tell him, though it is less a story about how Sandra died than it is about how the two of them lived, a story that seems fitting to tell at this, the beginning of a new year.
Ron and Sandra met in October 1985 in Lincoln, Neb. He was a 50-year-old divorced father of three nearly grown children, a man whose bad marriage had soured him on relationships.
She was a 36-year-old divorced mother of five living on a shoestring, a crusader who had founded a crisis pregnancy center the previous year.
He was a real-estate agent. She was looking for a place to establish a home for unwed mothers.
His life was settled, sedate. She drove a car that burned more oil than gas, and often ate popcorn for dinner so that there would be enough food for her young children.
Of course, he knew it would never work, which is why he took her to dinner four days after they met.
Twenty-seven years later, he keeps the receipt from that first meal in a wooden frame. That dinner was the beginning, he says, the night when he discovered what was missing from his life.
"We went back to her house and sat and talked for probably three hours," he said. "I'm glad I waited three weeks to ask her to marry me. I didn't want to rush into anything."
Ron and Sandra were married in April 1986, though his co-workers said it would never work. They raised her five children and welcomed nine grandchildren.
They enjoyed quiet days on the beach in Coronado and often spent afternoons window-shopping, strolling hand in hand wherever they went. Oh, they endured hard times, too.
They worked together as real-estate agents, and the recession wiped them out, taking even their home last year and her beloved rose garden.
But through it all, they never lost sight of each other, as so many do. Wherever there was Sandra, there was Ron.
"I took care of her, and she took care of me," he said.
Last February, Sandra bought Ron a puppy, a miniature Australian shepherd. They named him Cocoa, after a grandchild pointed out that the dog looked as if he'd been dipped in cocoa.
Sandra would tell their daughter-in-law she bought the dog for Ron to remember her by, in case something happened to her.
Five months later, on July 25, doctors found the brain tumor.
There was radiation and chemotherapy, but they could not save her. In mid-October, Ron and Sandra called in Hospice of the Valley to make what time she had left bearable.
It was so much more than that with the help of Hospice.
In a strange way, Ron would tell you that cancer can be a gift. It gave them time to talk and to remember, time to grieve together. Time to say goodbye ... for now.
Sandra rallied for Christmas, as the children and grandchildren came in shifts. Though she was desperately ill, there was laughter still because they were together and that, they would tell you, was better than anything that comes wrapped and tied with ribbons.
But then, that's the way they lived the last 27 years, appreciating every moment. Sandra taking care of Ron. Ron taking care of Sandra.
"Just enjoy every day," Ron told me. "Don't ever take any day for granted, because it might not be there."
A little after 11 a.m. on Saturday, Ron held Sandra's hand, telling her again what he had spent half a lifetime saying in every way he knew how, that she was loved.
Then, he kissed her and the angels came.
To read Laurie Roberts' first column about Ron and Sandra Pfeiffer (published Dec. 4, 2012), click here.