Vernon Witmer met the love of his life, Doris, at a Saturday night fire hall dance.

“She was a very sweet person,” Vernon said. “I enjoyed being with her.”

His favorite thing about Doris was the way she treated others.

“She was definitely a people person,” Vernon said.

He remembers one day, he and Doris were in a crowd of people. He looked back, and she had struck up a conversation with someone.

“My brother asked her if she knew the person,” Vernon recalled. “She said, ‘No, we just met.’ We couldn’t believe it.”

In her early years, Doris taught Sunday school for 3- and 4-year-olds. Vernon and Doris had two sons together, but unfortunately, one of their sons passed away too soon.

“I can remember when we got to the hospital,” Vernon said. “They sent us to a little room and told us. It was hard on us. Doris said, ‘Your child isn’t supposed to die before you.’”

In Vernon’s opinion, that’s what makes a love so special, surviving the best and worst of days together.

The Witmers faced another challenge when Doris began experiencing health problems – complications with diabetes and a progressive heart condition.

“It got to the point where I couldn’t care for her anymore, even though I wanted to,” Vernon said.

He remembered Masonic Village, as Doris had received rehabilitation care there. A short while later, Doris began receiving hospice care within the Masonic Health Care Center.

“I was relieved,” Vernon said. “A family friend from church told me I was lucky to have her where she was, that she wouldn’t get that kind of care anywhere else, and I believe it.”

For months, Vernon would visit Doris every day.

“I can remember her peeking out the door from her bed and waving to me,” he said. “We still loved each other so much.”

Vernon appreciated the love and care the Hospice team provided Doris.

“I was impressed with them,” Vernon said. “They knew what they were doing and how to care for her. Sometimes, someone from Hospice would just come in and visit with her.”

As it became more difficult to encourage Doris to eat, Hospice began educating Vernon on what to expect as his wife neared the end of life.

“I appreciated that, and it was helpful,” Vernon recalled. “Even though she had health issues for a while, Hospice encouraged me that it was OK to still be upset.”

One evening, Vernon visited Doris after church. “She wasn’t paying much attention to me,” Vernon said, “and I could tell her breathing was labored.”

When Vernon left the room, Doris passed away.

For the last year and a half, Vernon has continued to live his life the best he can without Doris.

“I miss her every day,” Vernon said, “but I’ve been able to function, to go on and do what I have to do for myself.”

Prior to COVID-19, Vernon attended some of Hospice’s bereavement support group sessions.

“I enjoyed the group,” Vernon said. “Heidi [Young, bereavement coordinator] is a very nice person. It’s a pleasant experience. You can talk or you can just sit and listen.”

Vernon felt guarded at first, but once members of the group began asking him questions, he opened up.
“Once I got to talking, I shared a lot of my memories of Doris,” Vernon said.

One of his favorites was when they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

“We had a party in the basement of our church,” Vernon said. “We had our friends and family there. It was really special.”

Vernon’s son, two grandsons and one great-grandson continue to provide him with joy.

“My son calls me every morning on his way to work,” Vernon said. “Hospice helped our family. Hospice isn’t something you necessarily want to think about, but I would recommend them to any family caring for a loved one.”