ST. LOUIS — The widow of an 87-year-old southern Illinois retiree killed when a tree limb crashed through their home and onto his head said Sunday she’s comforted in knowing he died quickly and not from his worsening Alzheimer’s.
ST. LOUIS — The widow of an 87-year-old southern Illinois retiree killed when a tree limb crashed through their home and onto his head said Sunday she’s comforted in knowing he died quickly and not from his worsening Alzheimer’s. George Arbeiter was the only person killed Friday in Illinois by the storm many are casting as an "inland hurricane" because of its devastating winds that raked the state’s southern region after leaving three dead in neighboring Missouri. More than 40,000 southern Illinois homes and businesses served by utility Ameren remained without power Sunday, down from the some 68,000 immediately after Friday’s storm. Among those still affected two days later: the Arbeiters’ cottage-style home and the mortuary handling Arbeiter’s arrangements, the latter complicating efforts to schedule a wake and services for him. Still, Grace Arbeiter feels blessed that her husband — a devout Lutheran — never saw his demise coming and ultimately avoided a possibly debilitating decline from the Alzheimer’s that increasingly confounded him since being diagnosed with it a couple years ago. "I find comfort that he didn’t have to suffer," his widow, 82, said by telephone from the bedroom of the couple’s darkened, one-story blue digs with white trim near Murphysboro, about 80 miles southeast of St. Louis. "You get to where you pray that the Lord would take them out of their pain. "This is the way George would have wanted it. I’m gonna miss him, but I know where he is." Known to his wife as a "good guy" Mr. Fix-it who "always had to be doing something," George Arbeiter certainly couldn’t sit still Friday afternoon after peering through a front window and seeing that the fast-approaching storm "just looked like it was gonna really hit," his widow recalls. The couple scrambled to the basement and huddled with their dog before George Arbeiter sprang to his feet. "I’ll be right back," his wife of nearly 31 years recalls him saying before he made his way up the stairs, making sure that door leading from those steps into the kitchen was shut tight. Out of sight from his wife, the retiree had just begun working his way back down the steps when there was a "big, crashing boom," Grace Arbeiter said. Without warning, a limb ripped through the home, whacking the man in the back of the head and sending him tumbling down the stairs. "I said, ‘George, where are you?’ But I got no answer," Grace Arbeiter said. "I went to see where he was, and he was at the foot of the steps, laying there totally unconscious. He hit the concrete like you wouldn’t believe," and blood was beginning to pool on the floor. "I patted his back and told him I loved him," she added. "I just kept talking to him. At that time, he was probably gone." A neighbor who heard the noise rushed outside to investigate and heard pleas for help from Grace Arbeiter, who was trapped in the basement. Another neighbor later helped rescue the woman as emergency crews were called, their arrival slowed by toppled trees in the streets. At the hospital, Grace Arbeiter said, a doctor told the family that if the man emerged from surgery, "from all indications he’d never have a life. He’d be a vegetable." Throw in the complications of Alzheimer’s, she said, and the family opted to end his life support. "He was gone within minutes," Grace Arbeiter said of her late husband. George Arbeiter had become increasingly frustrated by Alzheimer’s, including by no longer being able to handle a check book, his wife said. "George would have hated to have to suffer. He didn’t like having Alzheimer’s at all, and there’s just no way he would have gotten better," she added. "He was ready to meet God." ______ Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.