Gretchen’s Story

I am writing to you today to share my family’s experience with Hospice of Lansing & Stoneleigh Residence with you. I know you have your own loved ones and reasons why you support hospice care. I hope you will remember your loved ones with a gift today and help sustain this wonderful organization that brings so much comfort and care to our loved ones during their last days.

In the Star Wars movies, they often refer to “the Force” as the invisible part of the universe that you can use to accomplish magical things. In real life, that force was my wife, Gretchen Garmyn.

I met Gretchen in high school. To me, she was always the prettiest and smartest girl in the room! She loved the water and spent her summers working as a lifeguard. She earned a college scholarship in swimming and was the Captain of her swim team. She never missed a 6:00 AM practice.

After graduation, she began her career as a special education teacher. She was a fierce advocate for her students and loved helping them learn and accomplish their goals.

She was a great mom to our 3 kids and taught them all how to swim and be good human beings. She loved making holidays and vacations special and paid attention to even the smallest details. She was involved with the community and managed a local swim and hockey team.

I used to joke that my only job in life was to let my wife boss me around. I trusted her completely. I was just in awe of everything she could do.

She was the center of my world and the heart of our family.

The days of our lives went by so fast it was easy to ignore the signs. Gretchen got lost driving to a workshop. She needed help with the computer to do tasks she had done before a million times. The teaching assistants in Gretchen’s classroom were starting to notice something was off.

Eventually, I got a call from the school’s principal. She told me that something was terribly wrong with Gretchen, and I needed to take her to a doctor and have her checked for a brain tumor. The brain scans came back negative for a brain tumor. However, the doctor said another word that was frankly more terrifying than cancer: dementia. Gretchen had a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, but she was so young! We had her evaluated at a university geriatric center. The results were positive for early onset dementia.

The first few years after Gretchen’s retirement we managed with a new routine. Our youngest son was still living at home, and he was a tremendous help. As her illness progressed, we found an adult day care and enrolled Gretchen, so I could work go to work. Later we hired a caregiver who came to our home for several hours a day. We cobbled together a system to get the through the days, months, and years.

Eventually, I couldn’t ignore the fact that Gretchen was declining further still. During one of her doctor appointments, I mentioned that I was thinking about calling hospice. The doctor said, “I think that is a good idea.”

When the hospice nurse came for her first visit, I was amazed by all the tips and techniques she showed me about moving and transferring Gretchen correctly. Apparently, I was doing everything the hard way! It was so nice to have the hospice nurse to discuss her care and to share my favorite stories about Gretchen.

“This is normal” the hospice nurse told me over and over. It helped me to hear this, because there were days that I couldn’t stop thinking that it was not normal to be losing your wife, best friend, and mother of your kids at age 61.

Soon, the hospice nurse and team became a lifeline for me as Gretchen’s body started to shut down. A hospital bed and other equipment showed up and the goals of her care changed also. Now the conversations with the hospice nurse were all about preparing for what might happen next.

Our family and friends gathered in close. It seemed like we had visitors at our house every day. But my strong and fearless Gretchen now lay in her hospital bed unresponsive.

On Gretchen’s final night, strong storms moved through the area. We heard the tornado warning sirens, and the local television stations interrupted their programs to track the storm. I was worried and wanted to move Gretchen to the basement. My son was sitting next to her bed holding her hand. I must have drifted off to sleep in my chair because the next thing I knew my son was telling me that she was gone. It seemed fitting for Gretchen to pass on a night where the wind howled, and rain came down in buckets. It just wasn’t right that her light went out so soon.

The next year was a blur. My life was totally different. I had retired to take care of Gretchen and suddenly I had nothing but time. For years my coping strategy had been to just keep busy. I missed Gretchen so much.

Caring for Gretchen changed my outlook on what is important in life. I decided to use my extra time to become a volunteer with Hospice of Lansing and visit patients and help other families with loved ones traveling the same path.

I can’t think of a better way to honor your loved one than to send a gift in their name so Hospice of Lansing & Stoneleigh Residence can continue their important work with people at the end of life. Losing a loved one is hard, and it is forever. But with hospice care, you have help on every step of the journey. I will always be grateful for the loving care our hospice nurses and the entire team from Hospice of Lansing gave to Gretchen and me. I hope you will join me and send your gift today.

With gratitude,

Gary Garmyn

Gretchen’s husband & Hospice Volunteer