Seventy years is a good, long time.
Not all couples are fortunate enough to hold onto a marriage for so long. But World War II veteran Harold Brickens and his lovely bride, Lila “Jerry” Brickens, did. And even after Harold’s death last spring, the couple's dedication to one another, family and country is still being celebrated.
The Brickens’ 70th anniversary was March 14 of this year, and the occasion was even acknowledged with a proclamation certificate from the Kansas Legislature celebrating their milestone.
Harold passed away about two weeks later after a lengthy illness and several months of Mercy Hospice care.
According to Jerry, the magic that kept the couple together for seven decades was simply, “We loved each other. We were compatible…and sometimes, I suppose, even ‘combatible’.”
Meeting the petite, soft-spoken Jerry with fair skin and a movie-star smile, it’s hard to imagine there was much in the way of combat happening in the Brickens household over the years. Besides, Harold had likely seen enough of that during his wartime service in the European Theater. He never talked about it much, though, Jerry said.
“It wasn’t a happy time for him over there,” she recalled, noting that Harold had been drafted into service. “But he did his duty.”
She said there was a healthy amount of give-and-take over the years as the couple worked together to raise three children. Jerry managed the homefront while Harold was away in the Army, and the couple later weathered several family relocations for Harold’s job with Sinclair Oil Company/Arco Pipeline.
The couple finally settled in Independence, where they enjoyed bowling, watching Kansas Jayhawk basketball together and frequent special occasions celebrated with their close-knit family.
After Harold’s death earlier this year, Jerry’s own health began to decline. A stroke has left Jerry confined to bed and for several months she received Mercy Hospice services. From the bed positioned in her living room, Jerry spends her days watching television game shows and “Little House on the Prairie” reruns, surrounded by precious memories. There is a large framed photo of Harold on the wall directly in front of her, the framed legislative certificate celebrating their anniversary hanging behind her bed, and her three children – Pat, Susan and Jim - all around to assist with her daily needs.
“It’s good to have them all within grabbing distance,” Jerry said of her children. “They haven’t complained yet.”
Daughter Pat, who visits her mom frequently, and noted the services provided by the Mercy Hospice team have been a tremendous help at a difficult time.
“Your hospice nurses have really been a Godsend,” she said.
Jerry agreed that the team of nurses, aides, chaplain and social worker have been very helpful. “They have been very kind. I couldn’t ask for nicer people.”
A few weeks ago, the team took the opportunity to do something a little extra special for Jerry. As part of Mercy Hospice’s “We Honor Veterans” program, Chaplain Jason Sperling and the team presented her with a special recognition plaque featuring a poem that honors her own sacrifice as the widow of a military veteran. The poem is by an unknown author and titled “The Silent Ranks” It reads:
The framed poem also holds a place of honor in Jerry’s living room on a side table near the bed.
Chaplain Sperling explained the We Honor Veterans program offers special training and resources to hospice providers in the care of patients who are military veterans. The program acknowledges the unique needs of veterans based on their service history and equips hospice professionals to also provide support to spouses and families.
“In some respects, I believe the spouses sacrifice as much or more than the veterans,” Sperling said. “That’s why it was our distinct honor to recognize Mrs. Brickens and her husband for their service and sacrifice for their country…and for each other.”