“I know she still loves me.”
Dan Reinholz sits at the dinner table with his wife, Brenda, in Mille Lacs Health System’s Long Term Care community dining room, urging her to take another bite of the shrimp and rice the nursing assistant is trying to get her to eat. Dan has been coming to visit his wife nearly every day for the last two years, ever since she had two strokes just after their 50th wedding anniversary.
Dan, from Platt Lake, says even though it’s been two years, he still winces at the shock of it, the suddenness of the event that turned lives upside down in their family. “Even now, sometimes at night,” he says, “I wake up and think, ‘has this all been a dream?’”
But visiting Brenda has become part of his “new normal” daily routine. Sometimes in the summer, he’ll take her home for a bit, so she can see the yard and spend some time in the sunshine. “It’s hard, not having her at the house,” Dan says, “but she recognizes me when I come here, and I know she still loves me.”
Brenda doesn’t respond, but it doesn’t faze him. He talks to her; he takes her for long wheelchair rides all around the hospital complex. He points out weather changes out the windows and doors. He holds her hand.
Dan says he’s really never sure what his wife is thinking, or what she understands about what’s going on around her. If she tries to talk, it’s almost impossible to understand. About marriage, Dan says, “You take a vow. Hard things happen, like this, but that’s part of what you promise to stay together through.” He then looks away, and says, “Ah, really, I’m not very romantic, to tell you the truth.”
And at that, Brenda, who has been vacantly and silently staring off, turns to look at us, and a knowing grin crawls across her face. She nods and we all share a laugh.
Some things about love and marriage you don’t need language to communicate about.
“I look forward to being here with him.”
Phyllis Thompson comes to the Long Term Care Facility just about every day to visit her husband, Don. Don’s diabetes complications made it impossible for him to walk and one year ago, he came to the nursing home. The Thompsons retired to Platte Lake in 1995, and have been married 50 years.
“Not having a companion at home has been hard for me,” says Phyllis. “So I come here to visit. I get to be around people and I get to be with Don, and I know he’s well taken care of because I get to see it every day.”
Phyllis can often be seen pushing Don around the facility in his wheelchair. “We spend a lot of time outside in the summer,” she says, “and we love to look at lovely Lake Onamia.” They enjoy the fact that they can also log a lot of “miles” without even going outside if they want to, due to the medical campus’s offerings all being under one roof.
If she can’t come to visit, for any reason, “My day is bad,” Phyllis says. “This is what it is now, and I look forward to being here with him.”
Don’s advice for staying married and being happy is to “relax more, don’t worry so much.”
“Nobody who has been married believes it’s all fun and games all the time,” Phyllis says. “But you have to remember the good parts and try to forget the bad parts, because that’s just life.”
They sit silently together for a few moments and then Phyllis laughs and says, “And don’t hold a grudge!” Don’s eyebrows arch and he nods knowingly. “That’s not always easy but in the end, the good always wins out,” she says, putting an arm around her husband’s shoulder.
“She’s still my love.”
“Here’s my little bride,” Jim Cunz says as his wife, Annella, gets behind his wheelchair and starts pushing. Jim has a rare kind of disease that affects his muscles, especially those in his legs. After many falls, and weakness that left him in a wheelchair, his wife and family knew the Long Term Care Facility was the next step. He has been a resident there for 2 years.
“At home, I will still turn sometimes to look at the chair he always sat in, to tell him something, and then realize he’s not there,” says Annella. She has family that helps her out, so living alone is not physically hard. She says the difficulty is more about not having that other person around. “Just having your partner there, even if you’re not talking. After being married this long, it’s not that we have so many new and interesting things to say to each other,” she laughs.
“We said it all,” says Jim, deadpan.
Annella wheels Jim to look at the bird aviary that is down the hall. It’s his favorite activity. It seems to calm him, watching the finches flit about, peck at seed; he stares at the two doves cozying into one another’s curves in their nest.
“I miss my bed, and who was always in the bed,” he says quietly.
The Cunzes, from Onamia, have been married 65 years. “Love, respect and consideration are the most important things in a marriage,” Annella says, “no matter what kinds of changes happen.”
“She hasn’t changed,” Jim says. “She’s still my love. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Annella strokes Jim’s wrist and they watch the birds. “It goes both ways,” she whispers.