Donald and Darlyn Reeves marriage has withstood many challenges in its 58 years, but their love for each other has never changed.
“They’ve always been together,” said daughter, Linda Huffman, who - along with her husband Brian - lives with them. “If one doesn’t go, the other doesn’t go. They’ve always been good role models. My husband and I have been married 25 years and we are trying to follow the example they’ve set.”
With all love stories, life brings challenges. But the Reeves, of Hollywood, have faced each one with strength and grace.
Donald, now 77, has weathered significant setbacks with his health. He has had two strokes, the first of which in 1999 led to his retirement from his job as a plasterer.
“He figured he had another good 10 years but God saw differently,” his wife said.
There was a second stroke in 2009, followed by heart surgery with aortic valve replacement and a double bypass. His bout with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a lung disease which makes breathing difficult, and respiratory failure in 2012 left him requiring constant oxygen. Now, he’s bed- and chair-bound and gets by with help from his daughter and her husband, and a caretaker during the week.
But the bulk of his care falls to Darlyn, 76, the woman he spotted across the gym in PE class in his high school senior year and knew he was going to marry. She’s not complaining.
“With him being so sick, he says, ‘I’m sorry.’ I said, ‘If the shoe was on the other foot it would be the other way around. So I take care of you and you take care of me. That is what our promise was. God gave you to me and you’re my responsibility. So that’s it.’”
That’s Darlyn, said her daughter Linda. Always the caregiver.
“She took care of her grandmother when she was a small child. Took care of her mother and father. They stayed with us when they were both dying and she took care of them until the end. And, a couple years ago, her brother died of cancer and stayed here and she took care of him. And now she’s doing the same for my father. She just needs care, too, and things that would make it easier for her,” Linda said.
These things include a small, lightweight “on the go” portable oxygen tank with eight-hour battery life, also called a concentrator, so Donald could enjoy fresh air outdoors. The couple’s insurance pays for a rental units for short trips, but it will not pay for a permanent portable unit, which could cost about $3,000 — money the family doesn’t have.
“We’ve got memories,” Darlyn said with a laugh. “We don’t have money, but we have memories.”
The family also could use some work on their driveway, which has loose gravel and makes pushing a wheelchair a near impossibility for Darlyn and severely limits Donald’s opportunities for leaving the home, said Ron McCoy, caregiver support and respite program coordinator for the Joseph Meyerhoff Senior Center/Southeast Focal Point, who nominated the Reeves for Wish Book.
“In his case, the biggest issue is mobility,” McCoy said. “It can be pretty depressing to be stuck inside, 24/7.”
During the summer, the couple took a long-planned, two-week trip to see family in Georgia and South Carolina.
“That was a lifesaver for him,” McCoy said. “Getting out and spending time with the family is not easy in their circumstances.”
Also, the home’s air-conditioning is broken. The family doesn’t have a way to heat the house.
Reeves’ son-in-law, Brian Huffman pulls a visitor from the small, cramped room with cement floor where Donald rests, his wife and caregiver by his bed side, and ushers the guest out into the sparse front yard. Loose stones caked into the muck are unyielding for wheelchairs that tend to glide best on smooth surfaces.
“Look,” he says, pointing to a plot of dried mud encircling the front gate entrance near the swale. “When it rains this is all flooded. She has to get her feet wet to get him out of the car and the wheels dig in and hit rock. Her hardest thing is that driveway, trying to get through those rocks with him.”
Huffman, on permanent disability because of a back injury, recently poured a small ramp near the front door so that the wheelchair can get in and out of the house. The steep angle sometimes causes Donald to pull a ‘wheelie’ in the chair. Everyone smiles. Except sometimes he smacks into the doorway and then no one is laughing.
Neighbors next door have a sidewalk on their swale because they paved their driveway to the street. But that sidewalk was done at the neighbors’ expense. Across the street, another resident in this working class neighborhood has a screened-in porch.
Huffman gazes wistfully in the direction of that house on the corner.
“He loves coming out here because it’s more fresh air but when it rains he’s got to go in, or the bugs. Not like them,” he says of the neighbors across the street. “They could stay out all night.”
For Reeves, relying on others, isn’t easy to take. He’s concerned about the stress it puts on his wife’s back and shoulders,
“If it was the other way, I’d do the same,” he said as he looks at Darlyn.
Darlyn’s ever present smile and resolve doesn’t waver.
“You do what you have to do when you have to do it,” she said. “He’s worth anything and everything and whatever it takes, that’s what we are going to do.”