Couple has planned 'every phase' of their own funerals

August 17, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Grace Tegeler didn't mind posing for a picture - but she dearly wanted her husband, Milton, to share the spotlight.

Milton, 89, was asleep, swathed in blankets in a mustard-colored wing chair. When Grace woke him, he didn't want to open his eyes or move.

Grace, 84, sat on the arm of the chair. She rubbed Milton's shoulder with her left hand and caressed his arm with her right hand until she sensed his implicit consent.

The camera shutter clicked again and again.

"He's flashing pictures of you and he's going to make you as handsome as I think you are," Grace said softly.


She's always thought so - from the blind date on which they met, through the years running a tractor business on U.S. 40 together, to the motor home vacations they took "just rambling around."

Around 1980, the Tegelers went to see their friend Frank Minnich of Minnich Funeral Home.

"I'm going to get you," Minnich had often joked. "It may take a while, but I'll wait."

The Tegelers were enjoying the carefree ease of retirement, but they began to think about the unpredictability of death.

They decided they should have their affairs in order.

Grace Tegeler said the couple picked out caskets, a service, a viewing. They paid into an escrow account that would earn interest to cover inflation.

"We discussed every phase of it," she said.

They found harmony in their choices.

"We've been married for 67 years so, you know, you sort of grow into one," she said.

Grace said she's glad their burial plans are arranged because it's tough enough to care endlessly for Milton.

The couple's oldest son, Milton Jr., stops by their apartment at Ravenwood Lutheran Village in Hagerstown every morning to tend to his father. Another son lives in York, Pa., and a daughter lives in Columbia, Md.

A life together

Milton and Grace Tegeler moved to the Tri-State area from Baltimore County after World War II to start Graveley Tractor Agency. Their business was in Marlowe, W.Va., for five years.

Then, they bought land at Mount Aetna Road and U.S. 40 - where a Dunkin' Donuts is about to open - and ran the shop there for 24 years. They lived in an apartment over the business.

They now live in an assisted living apartment at Ravenwood Lutheran Village, near Wilson Boulevard.

About six or seven years ago, Milton came home and announced that he wasn't a safe driver anymore and would stop. It was the onset of macular degeneration.

His thinking grew foggy, too.

"He just started vegetating," Grace said. "There was some dementia. It's not Alzheimer's yet. But there are other kinds of mental confusion."

Milton's heart is failing, also.

"Maybe he's just wearing out," said Grace, who sometimes uses an oxygen tank to help her breathing problems. She said she had a heart attack and a stroke years ago.

While she copes with Milton's deterioration, Grace insists that he stay with her at home, not at a nursing home.

"He's never been ill in his life, really, other than this," she said.

Saying good-bye

About two weeks ago, "Milton had a bad night," Grace said. "Our oldest son called the troops. We discussed (his death) openly.

"I don't understand people who don't. You have to make the decision," she said.

"He called us in one by one and more or less said good-bye. It was creepy."

The camera was still clicking.

Grace was still sweetly bolstering her husband, trying to maneuver him inch by inch into his best pose, bearing his best expression.

"I'm going to haul him into court," Milton whispered, referring to the photographer.

"You're dreaming, dear," Grace said, then laughed.

"People have been bugging you all day," Grace said. "A physical therapist was in today. A pretty young girl was here.

"He knows what he's doing. Don't you, dear."

Briefly, Milton opened his eyes - and the shutter clicked several more times.

Later, with Milton again draped in blankets, Grace sighed and collected herself.

"Be warned," she said. " 'Senior' is not for sissies."

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