After two weeks of hospital sitting, hospice visits, negotiations and red tape, it was time to move Harold and Lea from the rolling hills of West Virginia where they have lived all of their life, to the South Carolina suburbs. Unfortunately, after 62 years of marriage, this time they would not be going together or living under the same roof.
For years, Harold has cared for his bedridden sweetheart, but after many decades of being a strong and dedicated coal miner, and more years of recovery from various back surgeries, his body decided it was time to hang the white flag and surrender. The doctors say maybe cancer, plus a worn out heart, but the bottom line is the fight is winding down and Harold has been forced to finally give in and allow those around him to care for him. Throughout all of the hospital tests and relentless poking, prodding and being shuttled here and there, only one thing has been on Harold’s mind—his bedridden wife, Lea. With the onslaught of illness, others have taken his place to make sure she is clean, fed and comforted. But we all know that no one can take the place of your mate, especially the one who put that ring on your finger over 62 years before. Theirs is a true love story—and the tragic death of their daughter, long illnesses and other hardships have tried but never been able to break the bonds they have built together.
Their son, Dave, and his wife, Lisa, have traveled back and forth for weeks to care for and get the next stage over with in order to get both parents settled and comfortable. It has been a hard time of ordering medical supplies, interviewing caregivers, setting up a room, negotiating costs, and accomplishing so much in a short time that has also had to be split with comforting both parents. It was Dave’s hope that this move would mean he will be able to be with his dad when he draws his last breath, and ensure that mom is taken care of under his own supervision.
With the fulltime assistance of his wife, Lisa, who has taken a leave of absence from work, they plan to give Lea the care she deserves. The day had come and Dave arrived at the hospital to witness a heart-warming scene. The staff member who has been caring for Harold since his arrival was giving him a bath to prepare him for his trip to South Carolina.
As Dave walked up, he could see Robert, the caretaker, gently washing his father as he whispered to him how much he is going to miss him. Harold responded to him that he was going to miss him, too. What a contradiction to see tattooed, pierced Robert—all 6’4”, 325 lbs of him, shedding tears as he finished and watched Harold being rolled out the door, to the tune of the whole staff singing him Happy Birthday. Harold, as he has done for many years, had made quite an impact on those around him. And here on the anniversary marking his 85 years on this earth, they all knew they were sending him home to die. They also knew his story of being married and loyally caring for his wife for so many years, and knew that he would not be returning to her. Harold would unfortunately be going straight to a Hospice house, while his wife, Lea, would go to live with her son, Dave, in his home in South Carolina.
Meanwhile back at their home, the other ambulance had picked up Lea and was sitting beside the interstate, waiting on the ambulance that carried Harold. Dave brought up the rear in his truck, hooked up to a car trailer with his Dad’s truck on it & both trucks loaded with heavily with personal items of Harold’s and Lea’s that was too precious to leave behind in an empty home. The caravan would travel together and then part once they hit the South Carolina line.
Dave was surprised when the ambulance carrying Lea pulled off to the emergency lane. He immediately feared the worst and pulled behind it, got out and met the driver between the vehicles. This lady didn’t normally go along on transports, but instead was the office clerk responsible for helping Dave work through all the logistics of the transfer. She told Dave she didn’t want to miss this, so had asked permission to join this transport. He told her that was great, but wanted to know why they had stopped.
She said, “Look, our company won’t expect us back until close to midnight, so we were all talking and were wondering if instead of immediately going to your house as planned with your Mom, if you’d be okay with us taking her to Hospice, too & unloading her to spend a little time with your Dad one last time?” Dave had successfully kept up the stoic exterior until this moment, but when he realized that complete strangers were volunteering to add more time to what was already going to be an extremely exhausting day for them, to selflessly allow the couple to say goodbye to each other, the emotions he had built up flowed over. Through his tears, he told her that would be wonderful and they once again set out on the road.
They arrived in Rock Hill almost four hours later, and both ambulances pulled up at the Hospice house. The crew unloaded Lea, and then Lisa and Dave told Harold they had a birthday present for him. Harold, expecting something trivial that would probably sit unused at his bedside, murmured okay. The drivers, crew and Hospice workers joined in another round of Happy Birthday but in the next moment, no one could finish the rendition. Harold was the only one singing softly to himself when he was unloaded from the ambulance and saw his love, Lea. As his stretcher was pulled up next to hers, his eyes lit up and his only thought was holding on to her hand as tight and as long as those around him would allow. The two sat staring at each other in the beautiful balmy fall weather, as everyone around them struggled to control their emotions while witnessing the touching scene.
After a time, Dave told his dad that they had to go and get him settled in his new room, and take Lea to settle her in her new room. Harold’s reply was this, “Okay, especially mom, just take care of her, okay?” Her comfort was still the number one priority for him. Harold and Lea’s withered, clasped hands had to be pried apart so that they could be led away to their separate, final homes.
*Special thanks to Bryan, Leanne and the rest of the amazing crew of Best Ambulance Service.
This story is true and my connection is that Lisa is my twin sister. Today they will be attending the funeral of Harold, her father-in-law. He died less than 48 hours after his last reunion with his lifelong love, Lea. I know you may not know this amazing couple, but Harold’s son, Dave, has given me permission to write this tribute and if you’d like to leave an online condolence, you can do so here.