I’ve blogged about Ray and Hilda before. They’ve been married for more than 61 years. In that time, they’ve faced many challenges, met many struggles, and have overcome them all together. This week, though, fate threatened to do the one thing its never been been able to do before . . . keep them apart.
On Christmas night, Hilda was rushed to the emergency room. She had become unresponsive due to what would eventually be diagnosed as a combination of pneumonia, COPD, and congestive heart failure. At 79, her little body was simply worn out. Ray, the ever-devoted husband, never left her side through the entire ordeal. For 29 days he sat and slept in a vinyl hospital lounge chair right beside Hilda’s bed.
On one of those days, a routine check of his heart showed his pulse had bottomed out at 38. Though he felt fine, the number was great cause for concern, especially for an 81 year old man. Luckily, the ER was literally an elevator ride away. Within minutes, he was processed, evaluated, and admitted to a room three floors above and a world away from his wife.
After a day or so, his condition stabilized. Eventually, I wheeled him back down to check on her.
As soon as he walked in the room (he would not enter in a wheel chair) the usually-despondent Hilda lit up like the Christmas tree she never got to enjoy this year. Her first words . . .
“Where have you been?”
Instantly, my brain hit the play button on the Kathy Mattea song. Wow. Does life really imitate art?
“They’d never spent a night apart.
For sixty years she heard him snore.
Now they’re in the hospital
In separate beds on different floors.
. . .
“He held her hand and stroked her head
In a fragile voice she said,
‘ Where’ve you been?
I’ve looked for you forever and a day.
Where’ve you been?
No I’m just not myself when you’re away.'”
Excerpt from “Where’ve You Been“
Words and Music by Jon Vezner and Don Henry
As I write this, Hilda is getting settled into a rehabilitation facility while Ray adjusts to his new pacemaker and the discomforts that it brings. And while I haven’t talked with him this evening, I’m quite certain he’s already claimed his spot at the bedside of his bride.
Ray and Hilda only had one child, a saint of a woman who is frankly the only reason their both still with us today. And that woman had me. This week, she and I witnessed the purest, most precious gift God ever gave the world . . . true love.
Sleep well, Ray and Hilda. And get well. We love you very much.
We said goodbye to Hilda in January of the following year. She did actually get to come home before God called her home to stay. We all miss her, but not like Ray. Thanks to the pacemaker, his heart is still beating. But it is very broken. Sometimes I watch him stare out the glass door onto the porch, at the empty chair where she used to sit. Then he looks to the sky, and I know what he’s thinking.[/readolog_first_paragraph]