Norma and Chuck Guthrie, seated, will celebrate their 78th wedding anniversary April 8. Behind them are their three children Charlie Guthrie, Sharon Timmerman and Debi Grashorn. The five were at a party in June 2019 celebrating Sharon’s 50th wedding anniversary. COURTESY PHOTO

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Coronavirus separation can’t thwart couple’s longtime love

When a couple exchanges marriage vows, they pledge to love each other in good times and bad, in sickness and health, all the days of their lives. Yet few have been given the grace to live out those vows for as long as Chuck and Norma Guthrie.

As the couple, longtime members of St. Thomas More Parish in Omaha, prepares to mark the 78th anniversary of their marriage vows, they are just praying to be together again.

Norma’s need for 24-hour care after breaking a hip in August 2019 required her to enter a skilled nursing facility. Chuck, 98, had been visiting her every day. That’s until the coronavirus outbreak prompted the lock-down of those facilities to keep residents safe.

“I miss him because I’m here, and he can’t come up every day now with this virus,” said Norma, who will be 98 in June. She knows God will get them through this, she says, because he has helped them through separation before.

She was referring to the time right after they were married in the Holy Cross rectory in Omaha on April 8, 1942. There was no big celebration or marriage ceremony because they wanted to get married before Chuck was sent to the Aleutian Islands and the Alaskan mainland as part of the United States Army’s effort during World War II to keep Japan from invading from the north. They only saw each other once during the next three years.

They wrote letters, but delivery was never guaranteed. “Mother and I just stuck together and prayed for both of them,” said Norma, whose brother was also serving in the military. During this time, she lived with her mom.

The Guthrie’s son, Charlie, who now lives with Chuck, said his mom used to tell him how hard it was with no phones and how she was never sure her letters would reach Chuck. Norma said they prayed their way through.

PRAYER AND ACTION

One of the Guthrie’s daughters, Sharon Timmerman from McCook, Nebraska, said she knows her mom is a worrier, but she also knows she is a “pray-er.” When Norma lived at home, Timmerman said, she remembers seeing rosary beads on her mom’s nightstand and near the couch. She also remembers seeing several prayer books and pamphlets within her mom’s easy reach.

Timmerman said her mom also has a special devotion to St. Therese, the Little Flower. “My parents are both pretty private people,” she said. “Dad was a member of the Knights of Columbus. They are good Catholics and raised us to be the same.”

After the war, Chuck’s job in the civil service took the couple to Montana and California before they returned to Omaha in the late 1940s. Norma, who had worked at Northern Natural Gas before the children were born, stayed home to raise Sharon, Charlie and their sister Debi Grashorn, who also lives in Omaha. When the children got older, Norma returned to work, finishing her career at Physicians Mutual Insurance Company, also in Omaha.

“I don’t regret one day of it. Not one day,” Norma said about their marriage. “We were supposed to be together.”

Timmerman said her parents were constant companions after the war. “They were people who did everything together,” she said. “We never thought we would be in shutdown. It’s ironic because my mom used to talk about how hard it was to be separated during the war and how she hoped it wouldn’t be like that at the end of their lives.

TOUGH AND TOUGHER

“I know those first three years had to be tough, but I know this time has to be tougher because of all these years they’ve had together,” she said.

Even before this separation, their children said they noticed an increase in their parents expressing their love to one another.

“They are so in love. We all take it for granted, but they are at the end of their lives, and they don’t miss an opportunity. I see them tear up when they see each other or talk to each other,” said Timmerman, adding, if there’s a hurt feeling or misunderstanding, she sees a quick apology followed by “I really do love you.”

They also see Norma and Chuck infusing humor into their situation. While they cannot physically be together, that has not stopped Chuck from treating Norma with a tap on the window and a wave, or an occasional delivery of a malt and the newspaper. On one recent visit Norma was waiting for him. She wore a sign that said, “I’m for sale.”

“We got quite a laugh out of that,” said Charlie.

“Today I’m making another sign that says, ‘Take me. I’m yours,’” said Norma as she shared her plan. “We just never give up. He’s got hope and I have hope too, and so we are just waiting.”

She said she understands why he cannot come in, and while talking by phone is difficult due to some hearing loss, they do talk every day. “I call him when I go to bed and when I get up. We never miss a day talking two or three times,” Norma said.

Chances are they won’t be able to celebrate their anniversary together on April 8 this year. Chuck said celebrating is the furthest thing from his mind because he’s more concerned about Norma’s health. He is getting through by praying for her health and that she remains in good spirits.

Norma also doubts there will be a big celebration. “We’ll be patient and keep praying for now. We are talking through the window when the weather is nice, and we just keep wishing, hoping and praying, and just taking it one day at a time.”