CRYSTAL CITY, Mo. – Ron and Patricia (Ellis) Olsen had a life that seemed right out of a country love song. High school sweethearts, they married when he came home for leave after being drafted during the Vietnam War.
Their song didn’t end, but it took a pause when Pat died in April. Ron says he will see her again someday, but for now he is trying to find out how to get by without her.
“We were married for 15,586 days, 11 hours and 45 minutes,” he says without even having to stop to make sure his numbers are right. “I am sure there are other couples who have had it as good, but no one had it better. You just don’t realize how blessed you are until you have to look back.”
Looking back he easily recalls other great memories. “Our first kiss was December 10, 1968, in the hallway at Fox High School. We got sent to the principal’s office,” Ron said.
Their birthdays were one year and two days apart. At age 63, Ron had just retired. Patricia was 62. She had back pain but didn’t have insurance, so she skipped getting a mammogram. By the time she saw a doctor, it had spread to her lymph nodes.
“Cancer usually comes on slow, but the oncologist said it was probably growing for more than a year before it showed up,” Ron said. “She had 15 treatments of radiation, and the tumors were shrinking, but it went to her brain.”
She fought through treatment but when her vitals crashed, Ron again received news he wasn’t ready to accept.
“When I first heard hospice, it was just like the first time we heard them say cancer,” Ron said. “I was fooled on that. I had never seen human beings that were so nice to another human being. As bad as it was, it was the best experience. They were more important to my family than I can explain. When I cried, they cried. When I prayed, they prayed. But you don’t always get what you pray for.”
As part of the grieving process, Ron met with bereavement coordinator Laurie Wigger at Mercy Hospice Jefferson on Industrial Drive in Crystal City. They were near the Memorial Garden behind the building when the retired bricklayer asked Wigger about the base layer under the brick walkway. He noticed that some of the bricks had shifted and some mole damage had caused others to be raised.
“She said, ‘You seem to know a lot about bricks. Do you think you could fix them?’ I said, ‘I was hoping you would ask.’ It was like someone was calling to me,” Ron said. “I’m retired, and it would be good for me. Like paying it forward, I get to help someone out.”
His craftsmanship is evident, Wigger said. “A lot of people have commented already. It looks amazing,” she said.
Ron not only fixed the memorial bricks that had moved, he placed new ones that will be dedicated at the annual Memorial Service and Brick Pathway Dedication at 2 p.m. on Sunday, October 4, on the grounds of the Hospice Memorial Garden. Please RSVP by September 28 at 636-933-5779 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The memorial service will include a candle-lighting ceremony, music, spiritual readings and a balloon release in honor of each hospice patient who has passed away in the past year. Personal invitations were sent to families of all Mercy Hospice Jefferson patients from the past year, but the community and all past patient families are welcome.
The Memorial Brick Pathway is an ongoing tribute to loved ones. Friends and families have chosen to have bricks inscribed. Bricks may be purchased throughout the year, then are dedicated each October. In case of rain, the event will be held in the conference center.
The brick that Ron Olsen had inscribed for his wife includes the initials BILY after Patricia’s name. It stands for “Baby I Love You.” It’s the name of a song by Andy Kim. “It was our first love song together. I still have the 8-track tape,” Ron said.