George and Ora Lee Rodriguez were high school sweethearts who reportedly met in San Antonio when George was working in a butcher shop. He later went into the military, and they married when he got out.
After 58 years of marriage, the couple died within three hours of each other while holding hands, according to KTLA. They both reportedly suffered from dementia, and the husband recently had a stroke.
"I just can't believe something like this would ever happen," the couple's daughter, Corina Martinez, told KTLA. "You hear this on the movies."
However, incidents like these happen more often than most people realize. Social scientists call it the “widowhood effect," New York Magazine reported.
Nicholas A. Christakis of Harvard and Felix Elwert of the University of Wisconsin–Madison said it’s “one of the best documented examples of the effect of social relations on health.”
In what is believed to be the most extensive study of the phenomenon ever undertaken, Christakis and Elwert concluded that there is a 30 to 90 percent chance that one spouse will die within three months of the other.
Their study was based on nine years’ worth of data collected from over 300,000 elderly married couples in the U.S. They noted that “[t]he death of a spouse, for whatever reason, is a significant threat to health and poses a substantial risk of death by whatever cause.”
As for the cause of death in such cases, the most frequent culprit is heart disease, according to NBC News. As such, it is often called “broken heart syndrome.”
“The condition nearly always follows a traumatic emotional loss, such as death of a spouse, parent or child and it primarily affects women,” notes NBCNews.com reporter Linda Dahlstrom. “It causes chest pain and sudden heart failure, believed to be brought on by a surge of fight or flight hormones.”