A life together, a death together for Bremerton couple
After spending 27 years together, Clayton and Helen Hansen died together following a car crash. "They're still together, as far as I'm concerned," said one relative.
BREMERTON — Age never seemed to slow Clayton and Helen Hansen. Clayton, 90, routinely drove Helen, 78, to farmer's markets and thrift stores and even trekked to the Washington coast often to visit family.
"They were inseparable," said BJ Misenar, one of Helen's sons. "Where Clay would go, she would go with him. When mom wanted to go somewhere, Clay would take her."
Clayton had always been self-reliant, but in recent weeks he had started thinking about assisted living. Should something happen to him, he wanted to ensure his wife of 27 years would be cared for.
Those plans wouldn't be necessary.
On Oct. 2, as the couple drove south on lower Wheaton Way, their Ford Focus rear-ended another car at the Lebo Boulevard traffic light. The Hansens' car spun out and hit a nearby building.
Neither Clayton or Helen appeared to have serious injuries, but as a precaution they were taken to Harrison Medical Center. There, the decision was made to fly them to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Six days later, they died from internal injuries. Doctors had them in different rooms during treatment, but Clayton and Helen were brought together for the final moments, surrounded by family.
Death came for them less than an hour apart.
They were holding hands when they died, according to Ron Hansen, Clayton's son.
Helen and Clayton met when he put a personal ad in a newspaper. Both had watched previous spouses die; Clayton's first wife, Donna, succumbed to cancer.
"He was a great husband to two women," his son, Ron Hansen said. "He was a great dad to me and my five brothers and sisters."
Clayton and Helen married in 1985 and moved onto five acres in North Mason.
Before meeting Helen, Clayton was in the Navy for about two decades spanning World War II and the Korean War. He was mostly a cook, but Ron Hansen remembers his dad telling stories about being pulled into combat on multiple occasions.
After his Navy career Clayton managed several KFC restaurants, including in Bremerton and Port Orchard.
He and Helen, a homemaker who held some retail jobs in her life, moved to Olympia before moving to their final home on Lebo Boulevard for close to a decade.
The two loved to go to farmer's markets and to hunt for bargains at thrift stores; money was tight on Clayton's retirement.
Helen loved to garden. She'd make flower arrangements, sometimes adding cuttings from weeds along the roadside. The couple kept plenty of nectar on hand for hummingbirds, which seemed to whiz past their Lebo Boulevard home all year round.
They were anything but homebodies.
"They went everywhere with each other," said Dennis Misenar, another of Helen's sons.
After the Oct. 2 crash, emergency responders found Clayton and Helen sitting together outside their wrecked car.
In a report dated Oct. 10, a Bremerton police officer wrote that the Hansens were conscious and talking with fire department medics, who were treating them for shock and minor cuts.
"Obvious serious medical injuries were not apparent to this investigator on scene," the officer wrote. "Medics on scene did not (advise) of anything other than minor injuries as a result of a general collision investigation."
Bremerton Fire Chief Al Duke said elderly patients in crashes are always taken to the hospital to check for more serious internal injuries.
Doctors at Harrison found those injuries, and Helen and Clayton were flown to Harborview.
At the hospital, the Clayton's and Helen's families had to decide how far doctors should go in attempting to revive the two. Both families ultimately wanted their parents to be as comfortable as possible. Helen's son Dennis encourages anyone to have a conversation with loved ones about what to do in such an event.
For a time, Helen Hansen was conscious and seemed to be recovering, Dennis Misenar said. But on Oct. 8, her heart stopped briefly. The end was near.
The couple had been kept in separate rooms so that they were unaware of the other's condition, which could cause undue stress and prevent their recoveries. But when recovery became unlikely, hospital staff wheeled them next to each other and their families gathered around their bed sides.
"Dad had the biggest smile on his face when he saw all of us," Ron Hansen said.
Their hands were brought together.
Clayton died first. About a half-hour later, a nurse whispered in Helen's ear that he was gone; son Dennis says that it was only another 15 minutes before Helen followed.
"Maybe she was just waiting for that notification," son BJ Misenar said.
While tragic and all too sudden, BJ Misenar said there was solace in their passing.
"It's a Godsend," he said. "Neither one of them would have gotten to be independent the way they were (after the crash)."
The families plan to spread Clayton's and Helen's ashes in Puget Sound at Illahee State Park.
"They're still together, as far as I'm concerned," BJ Misenar said.