Every morning, Dan Rathmell comes down to his basement and sings to his wife Cheryl over an iPad. In 2011, at just 59-years-old, Cheryl was diagnosed with a rare form of dementia, and placed in a nursing home.
Due to COVID-19, this is the only way these two have been able to communicate in over a year.
“Some people that have known me say, ‘Dan, I’ve always thought you were a strong person, you can handle this,’ and I’m thinking to myself, you have no idea how weak I am. This is too hard. Anybody that’s dealing with dementia, it’s very difficult," said Rathmell.
The two have been married for more than 50 years, and last year was the first anniversary they’ve spent apart.
Dan keeps photos all over his living room to remember the good times.
“We had just started dating, and you see her there. I hate to tell you this, but I’m 24 and she’s 17," said Rathmell.
It was a love story from the minute they met. In the 10 years Cheryl has spent in a nursing home, Dan has visited her more than 2,300 times, often singing with her and just being in her presence.
That’s why it came as a shock when she was diagnosed with COVID-19.
“After ten years, I thought heaven might be a so much better place for her, and it’d give me an opportunity to move on, and my kids, and yet when I heard she had it, all of a sudden I’m thinking, oh my goodness, do I really want her to go," said Rathmell.
Thankfully, Cheryl made a full recovery thanks to the staff at United Methodist Homes in Johnson City. Her care workers say they’ve been inspired by the couple’s story.
“It lightens her up and brightens her up and they sing along together and it brings her back out of her shell," said Tara Sales, UMH Activity Leader.
“It was really inspiring. Really inspiring, especially this day and age when people seem to give up a little easier," said Lora Sayers, UMH Star Unit Manager.
While Cheryl has good days and bad days, she ended this video call blowing a kiss to her husband.