Jacki and Larry Griffin wed just after midnight June 25, 1995. They had no guests. The bride wore bright, vibrant red.
The two had just driven hours from Lousiana to Hot Spring, Arkansas. They’d decided to get married, and didn’t want to wait — but had learned they wouldn’t be able to without Larry Griffin’s birth certificate.
So they drove to his hometown, getting in at 11:30 p.m. The city clerk was waiting in her car for them. She got them a marriage license and directed them to a chapel. They were wed at 12:15 a.m., just the two of them and the officiant.
They were married for 25 years, spending most of that time in Washington Heights. They raised their children together, grew an urban garden and loved to travel.
But this fall, Larry Griffin became sick. His wife took him to the hospital Nov. 15, expecting to see him soon. He was prone to accidents, and he’d had lung surgery. He always bounced back, she said.
“I didn’t expect him not to come home from the hospital,” she said.
But this time, Griffin had COVID-19. He was seriously ill. The only way he could see his wife was to Facetime her, though he could hardly speak because of the machine they were using to help him breathe. It seemed like he just wanted to see his wife, she said.
“I told him, ‘I’m so sorry to see you struggling this way. But anytime you call, I’ll answer,” she said. “I love you so much.”
That was the last time they spoke.
Griffin died from COVID-19 on Nov. 21, just a few days shy of his 68th birthday.
When Jacki Griffin thinks about what she loved about Larry, she comes back to the same thing over and over: his smile. It could “melt you,” she said.
It was the thing that brought them together when they met. Jacki Griffin grew up in Washington Heights and her husband in Arkansas, but they both found themselves in Louisiana in the early ’90s.
Both had been divorced and had children. They were living in a small town, and Jacki Griffin thought she may not find a good man or marry again. That would be OK, she thought.
But when she met Larry Griffin, during her first day at work for the city, she noticed his smile. She started finding ways to visit him in the office and ask him to do work things for her, she said. He’d give her that big smile and do what she needed — and then, after a few months, he asked her out.
“He was just handsome. You know what I’m saying? I was just so drawn to him, his smile,” she said.
From there, things moved quickly. They fell deeply in love. Jacki Griffin told her mother, who was sick and back home in Chicago, she was thinking about getting married.
Her mother told her, “Jacki, time waits for no man. If that’s what you want to do, make it happen.”
And that’s why they rushed to Arkansas. That’s why they married at 12:15 a.m.
Jacki Griffin shook with joy the whole car ride there. At the altar, she cried, though she’d never been a crier. Afterward, she felt pure peace.
They were soul mates, Jacki Griffin said.
“The other thing about Larry: I never worried about if he loved me,” she said. “He loved me from the beginning to the end.”
The Griffins moved back to Washington Heights not long after being married so they could look after Jacki’s mother. When she died, they stayed in the family home, taking care of their children.
It was almost surprising Larry Griffin, the Southern gentleman, would move to Chicago, Jacki Griffin said — but he thrived and “really made a life for himself.”
Larry Griffin was well-respected at his job and was passionate about his family. He had step-children and biological children, but he loved them all the same and was proud of their accomplishments, his wife said.
“Whatever they asked, he gave up anything he could for them,” she said. “And he was the same way with his grandchildren. They called him ‘papa.’ He would always move heaven and Earth to give them whatever they wanted.”
But he cared about people in the neighborhood, too. He’d take displaced people into their home, giving them a place to stay until they got back on their feet.
And Larry Griffin loved to entertain and barbecue for the neighbors and their friends, becoming known for his baked beans.
Even now, months after his death, Jacki Griffin is hearing stories about the way her husband helped people. Her niece told her about how Uncle Larry took her and all her friends to get their driver’s licenses as teenagers.
“He loved people, and people loved him,” Jacki Griffin said. “He was a giver. And he loved, he loved people.”
Larry and Jacki Griffin loved to cook and travel together. In the early years of their marriage, they’d hop in the car and drive to different places for weekend getaways. She’d find a little deal for a blues concert or a trip to Michigan City and tell him, “Come on, Lar.”
He wouldn’t hesitate. He’d just ask, “OK, when are we leaving?”
When Jacki Griffin decided to go back to school, Larry Griffin supported her as she got her bachelor’s and then graduate degrees. He maintained the home, looked after the kids and took on more of the cooking and cleaning.
And in that way, 25 years of bliss passed.
“He was just very loving to me,” she said. “He always seemed like he was so proud to have me. Like he was blessed that I chose him.”
The children eventually moved out. Jacki Griffin’s daughter was the last to leave this September.
For Larry Griffin’s last three months, it was just him and his wife. They were like empty nesters, she said, and it was nice. They’d make dinner together and sit on the porch at night.
Larry Griffin became sick in November, but the doctors thought he had pneumonia and he tested negative for COVID-19. They discharged him from the hospital.
But just two days later, he couldn’t breathe. When Jacki Griffin took him back, he tested positive for COVID-19.
Jacki Griffin said Larry’s loss still hasn’t hit her fully. She thinks that time will come this summer, when he would’ve set out his grill and music so they could entertain folks and they would’ve planned their garden together.
She never fathomed her husband wouldn’t come home. They had years of life and love ahead of them.
Not being able to see him is hard, she said. Her voice cracking, she said she feels lonely at night when the home is silent. That’s when she misses him the most. If only he was just in the other room, she said.
But she feels Larrry Griffin still, deep in her heart.
“He gave so much to me,” she said. “The physical, not being able to see him is the tough part. But he’s still got — where my heart is, I feel so full of him. It comforts me.”
Even their goodbyes were full of love.
It hurt Jacki Griffin to see her husband, so strong and handsome, laid up in the hospital when he video called her. But the final time they spoke, she told him she’d always answer when he called and reminded him she loved him.
And Larry Griffin, struggling with his breathing machine, was able to tell her one last time, “I love you, too.”
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.