New Brunswick

Till death: After 65 years, husband and wife die just 32 hours apart

On Jan. 28, 1953, Anthony Duivenvoorden and Sophia Juffermans vowed to be faithful to one another until death. They kept their promise.

'They were twin flames,' says daughter of Anthony and Sophia Duivenvoorden

'Beyond life itself': Sophia and Anthony Duivenvoorden, lifelong dairy farmers in Jacquet River were married for 65 years. Sophia died Nov. 17 in palliative care at the Campbellton Regional Hospital, and Anthony died 32 hours later on Nov. 19. (Submitted by Linda Duivenvoorden )

On Jan. 28, 1953, Anthony Duivenvoorden and Sophia Juffermans, both devout Catholics, vowed to be faithful to one another until death.

After 65 years of marriage, a transatlantic move, a successful dairy farm, and six children together, they kept that promise.

Sophia and Anthony Duivenvoorden died just 32 hours apart in the same palliative care unit at Campbellton Regional Hospital.

They were 88 and 90 years old.

"I don't think you could find a bigger connection," said their daughter Linda Duivenvoorden. "It even bewilders us, as their children, to see their connection go beyond life itself."

While there are many documented cases of long-married couples dying within days or hours of one another, the circumstances surrounding the Duivenvoordens' near-simultaneous deaths appear, their family says, to defy explanation. 

Always together

The couple met in Holland when Anthony, then a young man getting ready to serve a stint in the Dutch military, became friends with Sophia's brother.

"She kind of had her eye on him," Linda said. After serving overseas in Indonesia, Anthony came home and proposed.

The young couple, both from farming families, knew from the start they wanted to buy land.

Three days after they were married, the newlyweds boarded a ship from Rotterdam to Canada — known as a country "open to immigrant farmers," Linda said.

The couple, married in 1953, sailed to Canada and a new life three days after this photo was taken. (Submitted by Linda Duivenvoorden)

On the way, they were caught in the storm that caused the 1953 North Sea flood, which killed thousands across Europe. It was a treacherous crossing that would leave Sophia with a lifelong fear of boats.

Once arrived, they worked at farms across New Brunswick until they saved enough to settle in Jacquet River, a small community in the municipality of Belledune, in 1956. There, they founded their dairy operation, Beachland Farms.

An aerial view of Beachland Farms, which the family founded in 1956. (Submitted by Linda Duivenvoorden )

"They had so little money in their pockets," said Linda, who grew up speaking Dutch with her parents and siblings. "The language was a huge struggle for them. My mom used to tell stories about going to the store for salt and coming home with sugar because she couldn't understand the packaging."

But her "mom was very social, outgoing, and gregarious," said Linda. "She saw the sunshine in any situation." Sophia spent hours cooking for the scores of hired labourers that worked on the farm during summer haymaking.

While Anthony, too, was known as an "amazing farmer," Sophia "could run circles around Dad," Linda said.

They ran Beachland Farms from 1956 to 1991. Their sons now farm the same land.

The Duivenvoordens with four of their six children. 'Their lives revolved around their children,' said daughter Linda. 'They helped us all out throughout their lives.' (Submitted by Linda Duivenvoorden)

Neither Sophia nor Anthony were much for big displays of emotion, their daughter said, but "their lives revolved around their children." When her father took up a bit of woodworking in his retirement, she said, he handcrafted a small windmill for each of them.

"They were very reserved people, but we knew that love was there," Linda said. "They were together all the time. They both loved farming, my mom equally to my dad.

"They loved their life together so much."

Admitted 12 hours apart

In recent years, the couple had been in declining health.

In 2009, Sophia entered an assisted living facility. A few years later, an unsuccessful surgery resulted in Anthony losing much of his mobility.

"It was like putting an elephant in a squirrel cage," Linda said. "He was well looked after, but it was hard to see a man like my dad confined to a bed in a nursing home."

On Nov. 16, Sophia — unbeknownst to her husband — was rushed to palliative care.

"The boys were dealing with Mom's care," said Linda. "They hadn't told Dad that they were admitting her."

The same day, however, nurses noticed that Anthony "wasn't acting himself."

Like his wife, he was sent to the Campbellton Regional Hospital.

In their 80s, both Anthony and Sophia Duivenvoorden's health began to decline: seeing her father, pictured, confined to a bed, Linda said, was like 'putting an elephant in a squirrel cage.' (Submitted by Linda Duivenvoorden)

Within 12 hours, Anthony, too, was moved into palliative care.

Tragically, "they were unaware of each other's presence," Linda said. "It moved too fast to bring them together."

Sophia died on the morning of Nov. 17, without regaining consciousness. Anthony died 32 hours later, on Nov. 19.

The couple are survived by their children, Linda, Hubert, Jack, Catherine, Mary Ann, and William, 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

'Twin flames'

Katherine Supiano of the University of Utah, an expert on grief, death and dying, said the Duivenvoordens' deaths differ from so-called "broken heart syndrome," when a person dies from a stroke or cardiac event brought on by the shock of their partner's passing.

Sophia and Anthony Duivenvoorden, rear, surrounded by children Hubert, Jack, Mary Ann, Linda, Catherine and William. The couple 'had a bond that’s beyond our understanding,' Linda Duivenvoorden said. 'It was like he was waiting for her. He wasn't going to leave her alone.' (Submitted by Linda Duivenvoorden )

Even though Anthony and Sophia weren't told the other was ill, Supiano said, "on a deep, spiritual level, people are often aware that something is amiss, even if they don't speak about it or ask questions."

The Duivenvoordens sound like "people who feel that their lives were fully accomplished," said Supiano. "They feel like their life is fulfilled and they're perfectly ready to die."

Their daughter Linda believes her parents shared "a bond that's beyond our understanding," she said. 

"They were twin flames, and how they passed just proves it."

About the Author

Julia Wright

Information Morning Saint John host

Julia Wright is a born and raised Saint Johner, and the host of Information Morning Saint John on 91.3FM. She has been with the CBC since 2016.