Henry and Mary (not their real names) are a nice couple in their late 70’s who are originally from Holland. Mary came to America as a 21-year old woman in 1949. Henry came a year later, in 1950. Each of them would have endured the horrors of the Nazi occupation of the Dutch people. Mary told me of one of her relatives who died of starvation during those years. Both were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Upon coming to America, both settled in the Salt Lake Valley. Eventually they would meet and marry.
I met Henry and Mary in my semi-private room during my recent hospital stay. Henry has advanced Parkinson’s Disease. He had been staying in a local care center for the last several months, but then developed a case of pneumonia, which put his life in jeopardy – hence his hospital stay.
Henry, my roommate, didn’t say much. He slept mostly. During the night he would dream, and mumble a few things, often in Dutch. Sometimes he would sing a few bars of a song. You could tell that at one time, he probably had a beautiful singing voice.
He had developed bedsores, and hospital staff came in every two hours to turn him – day and night. Respiratory therapists would visit him several times a day.
Henry couldn’t feed himself. Hospital staff would come in to try to coax him to eat, but usually didn’t have much success. He was unable to take his oral medications normally, so they had to grind them up and mix them in applesauce, which he would take (usually).
The only one who could get much response from Henry was his wife, Mary. Over the course of the week, I got to talk to Mary quite a bit. She still spoke with a Dutch accent, in a kind of staccato voice.
I would talk with her quite a bit over the days we were there. As it turns out, her husband, Henry, had developed Parkinson’s Disease some 17 years ago. She has been looking after him, and taking care of his needs ever since.
The first 7 or 8 years weren’t too bad. She said there were times when you couldn’t tell anything was wrong with him. Henry had started a plumbing business, and as his disease advanced, the plumbing business was turned over to one of their sons. (The business is still going well, by the way.) Mary has always done the bookkeeping for the business – and amazingly, still does!
About 10 years ago, things took a turn for the worse. Henry’s disease became more advanced, and he could no longer be left alone. Mary was there, at his side, seeing to his every need as she watched her husband’s health decline.
After more 10 years, Henry could no longer get himself up out of bed, and Mary, in her late 70’s could not lift him. This, along with other advancing health issues made it necessary for Mary to place Henry in a care center.
At the care center, Mary is there for several hours, 7 days a week. She takes such good care of Henry, that the care center even offered her a part-time job.
Mary and I were able to develop enough rapport, that she began telling me about her own thoughts and feelings. I told her about my family, and the health issues that brought me there. We even had a few gospel discussions together, as we whiled away the hours.
Only the Lord knows how long Mary will need to continue her service. Her faithful service and the care she took for her husband was really touching to observe. For 17 years, she has never wavered, and steadfastly been there to meet her husband’s needs. Her Christlike example was truly an inspiration to me. I’m sure that rich blessings will be hers.
It also reminds me of the service my own mother has given to the health-care needs of her family. First with her parents as their health declined and eventually passed away. And now with my dad as he has encountered health problems the last few years. It has been 10 years and counting for her.
I love you mom, and all the selfless service you have given. Thanks for your great example, and the many ways you have blessed the lives of your family.
Oh, and mom. Thanks for that homemade chicken-noodle soup! It helped me to regain my appetite after that hospital “food”. I’m feeling much better now!