A Journey of Love

A Journey of Love between Mary Lou and David Sparer began 13 years ago when they met at a Friday night swing dance. “I had a one in a million true love at first sight. We went out on our first date the very next night, and I knew I had gone out on my very last first date,” exclaimed David. Two years later, Mary Lou and David were married and began a beautiful chapter of life together filled with travel, dancing, and devotion for one another.

However, just eight years after their first date, their blissful journey made an unexpected turn. Mary Lou was diagnosed with Biliary Duct Cancer, a very rare disease with a low survivability rate. For David, it was a different kind of first. “I didn’t know fear, I didn’t know indecision. I didn’t let anything stop me. This is the first thing that stopped me cold in my tracks,” shared David. Though devastated that he could not protect his “baby doll” from this silent assault, David was determined to make sure their final days together paralleled that of their earlier years together.

Mary Lou “was a fighter” and was able to extend her journey far past her prognosis, while remaining lovely as ever in spirit and beauty, and continuing her work as Director of Radiology at Sansum Clinic. David, in awe of the strength of his beautiful wife, loyally remained at her side through the various appointments and treatments. “The single greatest honor and privilege in life that I had was being a caregiver to Mary Lou for nearly two years,” David wistfully remembered of this uniquely sacred part of their journey together.

However, David soon realized he could not continue to care for Mary Lou on his own, especially while he continued to run his own business. Utilizing the trusted Home Health services through VNA Health, David received assistance to help Mary recover from her treatments at home. They also borrowed the necessary medical equipment from VNA Health’s Loan Closet to help Mary with basic tasks like getting in and out of the home and car. “The Loan Closet was a real lifesaver!” exclaimed David. After no longer making progress from her treatments, Mary was introduced to the concept of hospice care, but she was afraid to die. Dr. Michael Kearney, VNA Health Associate Medical Director and Mary’s friend told her, “Mary, you don’t go on hospice to die, you go on hospice to live.” When Mary made the decision to go on home hospice care, David remembers, “The quality of both of our lives went up exponentially.” Mary and David, both independent and successful individuals, were able to embrace the love and care from their hospice team without regret or fear and live out their journey together as fully as possible.

Mary received excellent pain management from her hospice nurse, Laura; endless foot massages from her aide Lupe; and touching, moving harmonies from her music therapist Stefana. Her social worker even brought her homemade mozzarella cheese because she knew it was Mary’s favorite. For David, he was free to “focus on my wife, and not worry about the meds, not worry about the oxygen generator, not worry about the little details.” Their moments were less about caregiving and more about each other.

David shared that hospice care provided profound memories in his and Mary’s journey together. David, who typically holds a strong exterior, shared a fond memory of when he was invited into one of Mary’s Music Therapy sessions. “I lay on the bed with Mary and took her into my arms and gently stroked her hair. Stefana starts playing the opening chords of Hallelujah (one of the few things that can trigger David’s tears). Mary takes her shaking left hand and pulls my head down to her chest, which by now was merely skin and bones, and I sobbed uncontrollably while my wife held me. In that moment, I realized that I had been denying my wife the privilege of comforting me [like I] had gotten from comforting her. [Hospice] taught me how to cry for my wife, with my wife, in front of my wife, [and] not be the big strong person I [thought] I needed to be. That was probably one of the two most incredibly intimate bonding moments that I had with my wife.”

The other moment was when Laura (Mary Lou’s nurse) asked David to “give Mary permission to die” in her final hours. David remembers, “I went in, I took her in my arms, I looked deep into her beautiful eyes, and I told her how much I loved her and I said I would fight with her until my dying breath…but it’s time…you’re in horrendous pain. It’s not going to get any better. You fought the good fight and if you still want to fight…I will fight with you until the end…but it’s time. A few hours later she went unconscious and 30 hours later, on her terms and with complete dignity, Mary went up to that penthouse suite in heaven.”

From the beginning to the end, David felt supported by VNA Health. After Mary’s passing, David utilized VNA Health’s Bereavement services to help guide him through the grief. He continues to feel solace in Mary Lou’s decision to go on hospice during her final months. “I waited 46 years to meet the love of my life and it was absolutely worth the wait. My only regret is that I wish I had 20 more years with her. At least hospice gave me a whole different, and beautiful ending to our journey together. Not only did Mary get to die with dignity, Mary got to die with me having dignity. And there isn’t a value you can place on that. The services provided by VNA HEALTH are priceless. There are not enough words in the dictionary to describe what hospice care did for Mary and me.”

It is because of this compassionate and trusted care provided for Mary Lou that David was motivated to contribute financially to VNA Health during his lifetime and to join the VNA Health Samaritan Society, a very special group of people who have included VNA HEALTH in their estate plans. He wants to ensure that Hospice Care, and services like the Loan Closet, Music Therapy, and Integrated Therapies continue to benefit and bring together families in our community during his lifetime and beyond.

Thank you for your financial support that you have already provided this year to VNA Health to help so many people like Mary Lou and David. Would you consider taking a moment today to make an additional gift this year to help others in our community receive the care and dignity they desire and deserve through their own journeys?

A gift given today will ensure a beautiful journey for someone’s tomorrow. If you have any questions, please contact our VNA Health Foundation at 805-690-6290 or by email at foundation@vna.health.