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Husband dies on steps at wife’s funeral; service becomes ‘double header’

CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. – Norman Hendrickson was known for telling jokes and never wasting money. So when he died suddenly while en route to his wife’s funeral, the couple’s daughters knew there was only one thing to do: Hold a doubleheader service.

The 94-year-old World War II veteran’s impromptu wake was held Saturday at the same eastern New York funeral home where his wife Gwen’s funeral was already scheduled. She was 89 when she died on Feb. 8. After Norman died just steps from the funeral home, the daughters decided their parents would be mourned together at the same time.

The daughters said it was a fitting way to say goodbye to a couple who had been together since meeting in Europe during World War II and who had been married for nearly 66 years.

“After we had a little time to process the shock and horror, we felt we couldn’t have written a more perfect script,” Norma Howland told the Post-Star of Glens Falls (http://bit.ly/VL01Jx ). “My sister said the only thing he didn’t do was fall into the casket.”

Norman, a former assistant postmaster in Cambridge, 35 miles northeast of Albany, was being driven in a limousine to the Ackley and Ross Funeral Home for his wife’s service when he stopped breathing. After the limo pulled up, funeral director Jim Gariepy, who is also the local coroner, and funeral home owner Elizabeth Nichols-Ross helped move Norman to the sidewalk outside the business.

Gariepy began CPR while Nichols-Ross and one Norman’s sons-in-law raced across town to retrieve his do-not-resuscitate orders from the Hendricksons’ refrigerator door. Once the orders were in hand, an emergency crew that had arrived ceased attempts to revive Norman. He died on the sidewalk.

Nichols-Ross said daughter Merrilyne Hendrickson then requested that her father’s body be put into a casket and placed in the viewing room with her mother’s cremated remains, which had been placed in an urn. Mourners who started arriving soon after for Gwen’s funeral were greeted by a note Merrilyne posted at the entrance: “Surprise – It’s a double header – Gwen and Norman Hendrickson – Feb. 16, 2013.”

Nichols-Ross said she didn’t charge the family for Norman’s wake. On his prayer card, she jokingly wrote that Hendrickson got the idea to die in the limo headed to the funeral so he could get “a buy-one-get-one-free deal.”

“If it had happened with somebody else like this it would have been sad, but with Norm it wasn’t,” Nichols-Ross said. “It was just so much like Norm.”

Norman was overseas with the U.S. Army when he met Gwen, who was serving in the British Royal Air Force. She immigrated to the U.S. and they were married in May 1947.

Howland said her parents had jokingly promised to never leave one spouse behind. After her mother died, Howland said she overheard her father say aloud, “We have had a good long life together. I love you. I’ll miss you and watch for me.”

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