Family reflects on love of couple who died days apart
This love story starts at the end.
After 58 years of marriage, Rosalie and Albert Johnson, of Elk River, both died over the weekend of April 9-11. Rosalie, 77, dealt with bone cancer in her final weeks, while Albert, 83, struggled with Alzheimer’s.
They spent nearly 60 years together, watching as their family continued to grow. Albert and Rosalie had four children, 12 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren, and their
home on Eighth Street was the perfect spot to get everyone together for holidays and other special occasions.
Fifty-eight years together, then less than two days apart. It’s easy to say that Albert couldn’t live without Rosalie. Though it’s a cliché, in this case it has some truth. Albert and Rosalie’s children, Laura Bell, Richard Johnson, Dana Tong and Cheri Belisle, all say that Albert just couldn’t bear to be without her.
“We told him Mom was gone, and he couldn’t really speak very well, but his shoulders just dropped,” Bell said. “Even though he couldn’t really express anything, we told him it was OK to go.”
“He held on before then because she wouldn’t have been able to handle it,” Belisle said.
Two days later, Albert Johnson died.
They first met at a party in Minneapolis in March 1958. After two dates, Albert told his brother he was going to marry her. Three months later, on June 14, that’s exactly what happened.
Rosalie was an artist. She voiced her opinion and was a strong, independent woman. Albert was gentle, humble and had a “wicked sense of humor,” according to Belisle. Two totally different people who complemented each other so perfectly. The quintessential example of the notion that opposites attract.
“When we’d get in trouble, my mom would be the one to yell,” Belisle said. “If my dad was mad at you, he didn’t have to say anything. He would just look at you like he was really disappointed, and that was crushing.”
Bell recalls leaning on her parents for comfort. Johnson cherishes the memories he has from family vacations. Tong remembers stopping for ice cream en route to their cabin as kids. Belisle shared just how much the Elk River community meant to them, and how much they meant to it.
Albert and Rosalie’s granddaughter, Siri Kuenster, still remembers her grandfather telling her he used to lug his goat to town to sell milk. She still laughs when she thinks about his catchphrase, “If it wasn’t for the beer, we wouldn’t be here.” She still smiles when she sees a picture of him curled up on the couch on Christmas after a long day at the post office with Rosalie cracking up beside him.
When Albert met his first great-grandchild, Kuenster will never forget how poignant the moment was.
“Who am I to be this blessed?” she recalls him saying.
Some Friday nights, dozens of people would suddenly appear at their house and start playing cards. The Johnsons knew people in Elk River, and their house was the go-to spot.
Later in their life, if you asked Albert how things were going with Rosalie, he’d look at you and say, straight-faced, that he was waiting to see if things worked out. You knew he was kidding. That was his sense of humor. His wit never fizzled, and neither did their love.
Their health did, though, and both Albert and Rosalie quickly became ill. Albert fractured his pelvis Oct. 15, 2015, and he went into the hospital. His health continued to worsen from there, and doctors said he had to stay in transition care 24/7.
Just before Thanksgiving in 2015, Rosalie and Albert’s kids moved Rosalie to an assisted living facility. Then on Feb. 19, they both went to the emergency room – together, just like they did everything else. Albert had severe pneumonia and Rosalie was in serious pain.
Doctors told her she had stage 4 bone cancer. They gave her six months, but she died less than five weeks later.
During those last few weeks, Albert’s kids would roll him, in his double recliner, down the hallway at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids and into Rosalie’s room.
“It was like, ‘All right, dad, we’re going to get up and move around,’ and he’d complain,” Bell said. “Then we told him we were going to see Mom, and he’d be like, ‘All right, then.’ We’d wheel him down and put him next to her and they’d hold hands.”
One day, Belisle told her father she had a picture of a really pretty woman on her phone. He wasn’t interested, but she insisted he’d like this one. He looked at it and immediately smiled when he saw a picture of Rosalie.
Now, their kids smile when they look at photos of their mom. Or of their dad. But most of all, they smile at photos of them together. That’s how they’ll remember them.
“They lived for each other,” Bell said. “They really did.”