England, United Kingdom
Frank was a soldier, and all the time he was in Burma as a POW, he dreamed of getting out and having a life. He suffered terribly, and was left scarred physically and emotionally. When he came home, his fiancee’s parents worried his scars meant he was too damaged to make a good husband. They forbade him to marry “Bette”.
Frank and Bette obeyed, as was done then. Neither married. Frank worked hard, cared for his parents, an aunt, then a disabled nephew. Bette was the same, the maiden aunt always helping others.
She too helped people avoid public-funded care, helping people spend their last days in homely comfort.
She and Frank spoke often, but visited infrequently due to distance. As Bette’s health failed, she was moved to a beautiful, privately-funded nursing home. She loved her beautiful sunny room, the gardens and duckpond. She was waited on compassionately, as she’d cared for many others.
Frank, however, was in a dingy, dark rented flat, with no central heat or bathtub. Yet Frank never seemed to mind. We nurses brought Frank “extras”, worried he’d forego warm socks or dinner. We loved his gentle ways, humour, and the little gifts he made for us.
One day Frank asked a nurse to take him to see Bette. She drove Frank on her own time. She watched Frank hold Bette’s hand, obviously comforting her. Oblivious to Bette’s dementia, Frank spoke heartfelt words. Before he left, he kissed Bette, and she said, “Frank?” The nurse ran out, sobbing.
After that, if necessary, we paid ourselves for a taxi to get Frank to Bette. Once I asked him how she afforded such a nice nursing home. Putting finger to lips, he showed me sheaths of legal documents, insurance, investments, pensions.
He said “I pay. Please: If something happens to me, make sure Bette never wants.” I was dumbstruck. Frank lived in poverty to ensure Bette’s exceptional care.
Over time we convinced Frank to eat better and get a mobility scooter so he could visit Bette himself. Asked if he was happier he said, “I was afraid if I took anything, there wouldn’t be enough for Bette. I couldn’t bear to see her go without…”
Then the call from the nursing home, “Please get Frank”. Beautiful Bette had passed away in her sleep. Frank said his goodbyes.
Returning to his home, I found Frank happy. “She’s free”, he said. “No more pain. Someday, I’ll join her — free, too.” Bette’s 18 years of care cost Frank one million dollars. He then trust-funded the nursing home for free care in Bette’s name — endowing two beds for the forseeable future.
The day I left to move to another place, Frank took my hand to share a secret. “We married in 1951, but didn’t want to hurt her folks. Did I fail her?” I told Frank he was my hero. He’d lived in poverty with enough to live like a king — for Bette’s sake.