The Peets, who live on a 25-acre plot in Wayland, have been under hospice and palliative care by Spectrum Health for about 10 months.
During Valentine’s Day and this season of hearts, the Peets’ hearts are growing weak. They both suffer from cardiac issues – Hazel suffered a severe heart attack last year that put her in Spectrum Health’s intensive care unit for 29 days and Forrest from congestive heart failure that is eroding his stamina.
Although their hearts may be weak structurally, the bond they’ve built through 54 years of marriage, in sickness and in health, continues to grow.
Forrest still strives to cook and care for his 72-year-old wife. Hazel is improving under his steadfast care, and her Valentine’s Day present will be being released from hospice care and transitioned back into Spectrum Health’s Home Based Primary Care program.
Forrest’s prognosis leads down a road not yet wandered, but he faces the reality of death with the same steady hand and fortitude with which he has lived his life.
“We’re not doing the greatest,” said Forrest, 75. “Hazel is doing better than I am. They said there is nothing they can do for me. I had open heart surgery and my blood vessels are real small. But I have to help her. Hazel is blind.”
Forrest isn’t bitter about the way this story may end. He feels blessed. And lucky. And thankful that he reached out back in the late 1950s.
The love story began with a double date at a drive-in movie in Grand Rapids, set up through Larry Richards, a friend of Forrest’s.
Larry was on the date with Hazel. Forrest was set up with Hazel’s friend, Carol.
“At intermission, we went to buy popcorn,” Forrest said. “On the way up there I said to my buddy, ‘That little short girl you’re dating, why don’t we trade?’ He didn’t agree with it and said ‘I ain’t trading.’ We just kind of laughed about it.”
Three years later, Forrest was still thinking about Hazel. He asked Larry if he could put them in contact.
Forrest called her up, asked her out, and the relationship grew.
About seven months later, he asked her to marry him.
“Her eyes got as big as saucers,” Forrest said, laughing. “She said yes.”
Their lives became one on July 31, 1960, in a Baptist church in Grand Rapids.
“I was working that day driving a big truck and my boss wanted me to take one more load,” Forrest recalled. “I was a half hour late for my wedding. Everybody thought I stood her up.”
Instead of standing her up, he stood by her for more than a half century. They traveled together, worked together, laughed together and played together. They visited flea markets and garage sales, in search of collectibles.
The Peets had three children, and two miscarriages.
But through it all, they had each other, just as they will until a last breath puts the final punctuation on their story.
Hazel said doctors have told her if she has another heart attack, she likely won’t survive.
“I just take one day at a time and roll with the punches,” she said. “We’re here to help each other. I try to remind him to take his pills and he reminds me when I have to take mine. I love my husband and my husband loves me.”
Home Based Primary Care is a community-based model of care providing support in the home, centered on patient wishes to remain in the community even during a health care crisis.
“Spectrum Health is implementing the Respecting Choices system for advanced care planning centered around creating plans of care that are consistent with patient wishes,” Boettcher said.
Advance care planning makes a huge difference by honoring patient choice, she said. A huge burden is lifted from families when they know what their loved one wants in the event of a sudden change in health condition.
“For family and loved ones, understanding and respecting wishes is oftentimes that greatest gift of love offered,” Boettcher said. “As health care providers, it is our duty to know and respect that gift. The Peets are poster elders of how Spectrum Health delivers extraordinary care.”
As time ticks on for the Peets, there likely will be no heroic life-saving efforts or advanced measures. They are content with their lives, and the thought of their deaths.
“We just want to help each other through this,” Forrest said. “A lot of people can’t get that long of a life with each other. I love her as much as the day I married her. Or more.”