I met Cristina through my brother-in-law. Somehow this project came up in conversation and she insisted I meet John + Jeanette. She could not stop smiling as she talked about their story and how they changed her life. (Cristina, an absolute angel, has known/visited them for many years now.) She allowed me to accompany her one evening for a visit. With my camera in tow, I walked into this darling green cottage of a home and I KNEW this was the REAL deal. The room radiated with an intense love and genuine kindness. I can’t begin to articulate the feelings I felt as John lovingly talked about their story. I was blown away by the healing power of love and service. I left thinking, this…this is what life is all about. I typed this out from a video recording of our visit:
John: “Adversity introduces a person to themselves. I have been introduced to myself numerous times in my life. A tremendous adversity that I have dealt with is Jeanette’s Stroke—6 years ago, today, actually.”
John: “Yeah, you had a stroke Hunny.”
Her stroke was a game changer for us, obviously. I never knew anybody who loved life more than Jeanette on a spiritual plane. Many of us walk around in a low-level fog. We are concerned about how we will pay for this, what will we have for dinner tonight…etc. I never knew anyone who saw things with more of their spiritual eyes, someone who saw the beauty in everything around them.” He started to get emotional as he looked in her direction, “She was such a joy to be around and her eyes sparkled like diamonds, all of the time.” He continued, “But the stroke took a lot of that light and luster out of her. So I lost a very (on some levels, anyway) a wonderful friend and someone I love very much. Yet, she is still here and I still love her. However, that was just a very hard adjustment to go through.”
He gently took her hand, “The empathy thing is hard too…in other words, every day I wake up and think, What if I woke up every day and was paralyzed and couldn’t move, effectively think, or practically function? She used to be so very capable (she attended medical school, for example) and now she can’t do anything. (Jeannette is paralyzed on the entire left side of her body. John has described her state as caring for a young child in that she also compromised cognitively and has lost many capabilities.) Finding a solution to my empathy for her is a daily challenge for me.
The other thing that was hard was coming home from rehab. When she came here, we had a daughter come for a couple of days to help us adjust to this new life. Then she left…I hearken back to this picture by N.C. Wyeth depicting the Pilgrims with the Mayflower going back to England—their one link to the world. There they were just standing there watching it sail away on the horizon. That was how I felt. She was gone…and suddenly it was ME introducing myself to the full weight of the situation with my empathy for Jeannette. How do I care for another human being? How do I feed them, change them, take care of them, and entertain them? And how long will this be? And I still don’t know the answer to that question.
For me, it was a really hard moment. I usually can grapple with most challenges of life. This one seemed bigger than I was. I remember after being here alone with Jeannette for about a day and a half—feeling overwhelmed. I went into the room where Jeanette was and I just sat down on the bed, sat her up and held her—and I wept.” Tears started to well up in his eyes, “I wept because I didn’t know what to do or how to do it–for her sake.
I didn’t know how to cook at all—I still don’t. Jeannette wouldn’t let me in the kitchen at all, for 25 years. I would offer to peel potatoes or something to help… but she always insisted on doing it…I may get in the way or she had a surprise for me or something. To give you an idea of how foreign cooking was for me, I recall one time, early on, I was going through this recipe. It read, ‘in a sauce pan put’…I thought to myself, what is a sauce pan? I got all of the pans out, does it say what they are on here somewhere? I really didn’t know.
…Anyway, I sat on the bed and I held her and with her one good arm, not saying anything, she rubbed my back. After awhile, I pulled myself together and washed my face and tried to figure out what we would have for dinner that night.
Then I heard a faint knock on the door. I looked out the window and didn’t see anyone, I opened the door and the three youngest girls (of a neighboring family of 6 or 7 girls) stood there. “Hi, these are for Sister Woolf, “ one little voice said. There they presented a little bouquet of flowers. Never mind that these were picked from my garden,” he laughed, “the fact that they gave them to me, I realized that I wasn’t alone. And that has been profound.
I haven’t been alone since. People, like Christine, help me out a lot. I can’t begin to tell you the number of blessings that have come because of this. I wouldn’t wish this upon anybody but the blessings have been profound. I don’t know how to express this other than just to be grateful for them and grateful for this experience.
I think of all of the years we have been married before and how wonderful they were on a so many levels. This is a whole different level but it is also a wonderful level in its own way.
I was totally shattered and scared to death to jump into this dimension. I didn’t want to do it.” He grabs her hand and pulls it close to him, he continued, “But the thought of her going and leaving me– and this dimension now goes away, scares me too, terribly.” He gently sweeps the hair from her forehead, “I am terribly blessed and very much in love with her.”
My mission president in a Zone Conference in Germany once said: “We love those whom we serve.” Jeanette took his hand and gently stroked it as John continued, “I thought I loved Jeannette before but it is a lot deeper-ish one.” He tucks her hair behind her ear, “And I am honored…I am so honored to serve her.” Jeannette takes his hand and kisses it as she gently presses it to her face.
The Day of the Stroke: Jeannette was walking with her friend to pass out books for a book club. She went over to her friend’s house to have some tea (John said they thought they were both English. Jeannette has been to England 13 times. :)) Jeannette sat on her friend’s couch and mentioned how “terribly tired” she was all of a sudden. Her friend gave her some tea and it started running out of the side of her mouth. She then fell over and collapsed. Her friend’s husband ran in but they couldn’t revive her. They called a neighbor who came in and immediately recognized this as a stroke. He picked her up and rushed her to the hospital. John was 500 miles away while this was all happening. He received the call and arrived the next morning. The doctors explained that this was not clot based, it was a broken blood vessel. They showed him the area of damage from the MRI and explained there was nothing they could do for her; he would just have to “pick up the pieces afterwards.”
“As soon as I heard she had a stroke, it felt like I was shot with a howitzer right through my heart. I knew this was not going to be something trivial. Strokes are like car accidents—they can range from fender bender or roll ten times then off a cliff and burn. I knew the second I heard that this was a life-changing event.”
John + Jeannette’s Last Interaction before Her Stroke: “I am a bone-head. Jeannette was more on a spiritual level. She told me she really didn’t want me to go down to our family Ranch in New Mexico. It was that time of year and we were doing a family renovation project that I was in charge of in New Mexico. [I have a million older sisters, so all male-oriented things fall to me.]
I told her I could go work on this project and she could take care of her other things around here. The roads are clear. I promised I would be back for Sunday and then we could go to our last (they were closing the brand where they served) Sunday activities together.”
He continued, ‘What’s not to like? Do you think I am going to be in an accident or something?’ She replied, ‘No, I just feel that we should be together.’
“Anyway, I am so goal-oriented. That’s my problem. I have these objectives and I go for them. She was seeing things on a more spiritual…she knew something was happening. When I was leaving, she was kind of clingy and very….I mean…she was,” he looked down at his hands, “saying goodbye. I don’t know if she fully understood it, but I certainly didn’t.”
As I drove down the street, she stood out in the street,” he tearfully looks over and touches her hand, “and she waved to me until I was out of sight. She understood that kind of thing a lot better…you think after all of these years I would have sort of caught on to that, ‘Oh yeah, maybe something is afoot here.’ I kick myself that I didn’t. I was 500 miles away. You feel really helpless when you are 500 miles away. You get that phone call and you can’t just immediately be there to help them. But she, she understood and I didn’t.” She nods and he continues, “So… that’s why I am a bone-head.” Jeannette sweetly laughs and says, “you are not a bone-head.”
A Day-In-The-Life of John + Jeannette:
- 6am: Get up to get the house ready (unless it is a really rough night…a lot of coughing becausr of swallowing reflux problems or bad dreams, more profound as time goes on….I wake up and tell her, “You’re okay, I am right here.”)
- Get breakfast started. Fold Laundry. Pay bills, etc.
- 8 /9am: Jeannette wakes and I bring her something to drink.
- Begin our two-hour routine:
- Leg Exercises (left leg is so stiff, like a board)
- Remove brief. Bisacodyl suppository to initiate a bowel movement in an hour
- Get her up and get her wheel chair ready with a special pad
- Wasatch Waltz—Put her left foot on my right and I then can move her left leg with my foot and we waltz until we reach her chair. 😉
- Pedal Exercises.
- ***Candlelight Breakfast (she always had one for him) I sometimes have to “prime the pump” and start feeding her to get her to feed herself.
- Then we do Bathroom-procedure for bowel movement. I then lift her onto the shower seat that I made for her…(I have calculated that I have lifted her in and then out about 4,000 times)
- Get her all soaped up, brush teeth, rinse her off, somedays wash her hair, dry off, lift her out, dress her, do her makeup, etc.
- Morning Nap (She is usually tired from that whole process and I check her blood pressure because sometimes she may have complications that lead to a quick drop in blood pressure and it can be severe at times.)
- Lunch Hour: do perhaps some grocery shopping with her, grab a bite to eat. I try to get her out of the house every day.
- Afternoon Activity: some activity to keep her busy. Visitors. Apple TV and Netflix. She loves to do period pieces (she used to make costumes professionally). Nothing particularly exciting. There are limited things we can do. Winter weather makes it more difficult.
- “Then I have to try and do a dinner.”
- We are together all of the time. Sometimes when she is lying down, I will lay down with her (“she can be easily distracted, like a 2 year old at times”) to help her focus.
- Evening Routine—changed, into her evening clothes (loose fitting large t-shirt, Hot water bottle for her feet because they are always cold.
- I always say this to her each night before she goes to sleep:
“In a little while I am going to come to bed and I will be with you all night long to watch over you; to protect you; and to take care of you. And to lie next to you BECAUSE I LOVE YOU.” Then she usually smiles up at me and goes to sleep.
- Then I finish up things around the house before retiring to bed. Then we do it all again the next day.
^^Jeanette made both of these beautiful pieces of art, by hand. The second photograph is of John and Jeannette (the bee keeper and the gardner).
Cristina with John + Jeannette^^