Gloria Loring is mourning the loss of her beloved ex-husband, Alan Thicke, who died at age 69 on Tuesday after suffering a heart attack while playing hockey at a skating rink in Burbank, California.
The 70-year-old actress, who was married to the Growing Pains actor from 1970 to 1984, chatted with ET over the phone from her home in Lake Arrowhead, California, on Wednesday, where she reflected on their most precious memories together.
Loring said Thicke "represented family and fatherhood with his career" and was "a good dad" to their two sons, Robin, 39, and Brennan, 41. (Thicke also had a son, 19-year-old Carter, with his second ex-wife, Gina Tolleson.)
"He loved his family so much," she explained. "He was the centerpiece to our family and I can't imagine going forward. We always had Thanksgiving and Christmas with the big, extended family, and I just can't imagine how it's going to be without him."
"Alan loved his kids, loved his grandkids -- he was known as 'Pops,' and I think my son could speak best to their relationship with him, but I know it was always one of a mentor, a counselor, a supporter," she continued. "He was always there when they needed him. He was very devoted to his family and he was always so much fun to have in the room anywhere he was -- his sense of humor went before him."
Loring and Thicke spent their last Thanksgiving together surrounded by their extended family.
"I remember watching the great affection between he and his [surviving] wife Tanya [Callau], and thinking, 'Isn't that sweet?' I'm so glad that they seem so affectionate," Loring said. "I also remember thinking how sweet it was going to be to watch him grow to be an old man, an old grandpa, and he would watch me do that as Nana, and how wonderful it is, the passing of years and the way families change and grow and blend, and now won't have that with him."
"What I remember most was my big vision of our family, and the way we've added members and the way we've grown, and how joyous it would be to grow old together, but apart," she continued. "I mean, I loved him with every fiber of my being, for about 14 of the 16 years I was with him. And then things changed and it was time for us to grow in different ways."
"I'm so grateful that I had the time I had with him," she added. "I learned so much from being with him about so many aspects of being an adult, and being in the entertainment industry, because he was a writer and a producer and I was merely a performer. He opened my eyes to what production people go through, and the demands of that. So, I'm just so grateful for the time I had with him."
ET previously reported that Thicke was rushed to Providence St. Joseph's Medical Center on Tuesday afternoon after he had collapsed on the ice rink while playing hockey with his youngest son, Carter. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
Loring told ET it was her son, Brennan, who informed her of the tragic news.
"Brennan sent me a text because he was on the way to the hospital," she explained. "He said, 'Dad's had a heart attack and it's a big deal.' I called and spoke to him briefly and said, 'Tell me what happened,' and he said they'd taken him to the hospital, they were very close, they were taking him into surgery. I said, 'Well, that sounds very hopeful that they got to him quickly, and they're taking him right into surgery, that sounds like we're going to be OK.'"
"And then a very short time later," she continued, "Brennan texted me and said, 'He's gone,' and I said, 'Wait a minute, he's gone to surgery?' I just couldn't believe it. Because I had just seen him, and he looked good. These cardiac events are very difficult."
Loring found Thicke’s death "shocking," telling ET "he was in great spirits" and "looked good" the last time they saw each other at Thanksgiving. She was not aware of any pre-existing medical conditions.
"I'd heard nothing from my sons, and I think that's why this is so profoundly shocking -- that he would have such a massive cardiac event that would take him so quickly," she explained. "It's a big loss and a big shock."
"It was one of those silent things that happen to people," she continued. "I mean, I wasn't provided [with] his doctor's reports or anything. We chatted, but he looked good to me. I noticed the white beard, and I thought, 'Aw, the guys can't color their beards the way the girls color their hair!' But he seemed fine."
"It's just the most shocking thing," she added. "I'm having trouble wrapping my head around it for my sons, my grandsons. They loved their pops. It's just so sad, as it is for any family who loses a parent. It's just so shocking."
As for how Robin and Brennan are coping, Loring tells ET they are doing it "in their own way."
"I told them I was ready to come in and be with them if they wanted me there," she revealed. "They said, 'Give us a day, we just need some quiet time.' I said, "I'm there if you need me, and I'm here in Lake Arrowhead if you want to talk.' Everyone has their own way of grieving. We're all going to be together on Saturday because we have a joint birthday party for my son, Brennan, and myself. So, it will be a celebration of Alan, as well as our lives. It'll be a very tender time for sure."
Before Loring hung up the phone, she told ET that if there's anything she hopes fans have learned from Thicke, it's "just to keep a sense of light in your life."
"I think Alan would want us to remember his humor, and his turn of phrase," Loring said, adding that she thinks his legacy is his "kind spirit," "wonderful sense of humor" and "devotion to family."
"He was a good, upright Canadian!" she continued. "And I know the Canadian people are very proud of him. It was always a happier occasion when Alan was there -- his sense of humor, his slap-on-the-back personality, and his 'How you doin'?' -- he had a great way about him. And he and Tanya, their entrance into a party was always a bit of a wonderful flurry. There are definitely celebrity personalities bigger than life, and that's the way we loved him."
"I think Alan was at peace with his life," said Loring. "He was in such a good place. He was playing hockey with his son. I mean, if we have to go, and we all do, what better way than to be doing something you love with someone you love?"