Until death do us part

Feb 22, 2024
At left is a photo of Lou (Lillie) and David Davia early in their marriage. At right is a family photo with children Brian and Karen at left and David and Lou at right. The parents moved to Texas to be closer to their children for family support. (COURTESY PHOTOS)

ORLANDO | They met at a folk dance. She was recently out of college, and he was fresh out of the Army.

“I saw her there and I thought she looked kind of cute,” said David Davia with the lightheartedness that swept him back in time for a moment. Nostalgically he recalled their first date, a night of dancing and Chinese food.

“All of this was of course, before I had any idea of what was headed for us down the line,” he said. Still, he’d do it again.

His bride, Lou (Lillie) suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. After 50 years of marriage, David’s and Lou’s lives are still as intertwined as when they first married. Both need one another. Lou needs her loving husband to take care of her as her mental capacity declines. David needs Lou, to “have and to hold,” to be by her side and care for her with an undaunting love that stills a restless heart.

David is an extraordinary caregiver by any standard.

“He’s doing the work of angels on earth,” said Dr. Rosemary Laird, Lou’s doctor who is a parishioner of Ascension Parish in Melbourne. “I always picture angels as these figures that appear alongside you, like a guardian angel, and are there for a purpose doing things to help. And that’s how Mr. Davia handles everything his wife needs.”

The physician also offers caregiver support to David when he needs it. She described one of the things that stands out in David’s role as a caregiver.

“He realizes this is her disease and her fate, so he realizes that’s now his fate. That he needs to be the one to watch over her,” Laird said. “He understands the dependency that comes with the illness. He’s stepped into that role. And as everything progresses and accumulates, he steps up to the plate and does it, but in a very respectful and quiet way. He has a loving, respectful, supportive presence. He is really uniquely thoughtful. You don’t see that in a lot of caregivers. It speaks to his resilient faith.”

Laird was glad to see that Pope Francis’s February prayer request is for the terminally ill and their caregivers. She especially thinks about her many patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Part of their disease is their intellect leaves them. They’re not able to have for themselves these existential, deliberative conversations and wonderings about the meaning of life in the face of this terminal illness,” she explained. “But guess who is? The family caregiver is there with both their feelings and their loved ones.”

She said one cannot overestimate the support family provides, whether they are taking care of their family member at home or in an assisted living situation.

Speaking of the ill, Pope Francis said, “even in these harsh circumstances … the value of their being is measured by their capacity to give and receive love.”

David still recognizes the value of his wife’s being, of her life, no matter how she must live it at the moment. And when she is aware, she too values his care for her.

Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago, Lou’s occasional forgetfulness is almost always there now. She needs help doing things — taking medicines on time, eating on a regular schedule and more. David is responsible for all that.

Occasionally, Lou doesn’t recognize him or their children, Brian and Karen.

“The hardest part is watching her not understand that she doesn’t understand. You can’t explain it to her. You just have to hope she works through the problem,” said David who has strong faith. “I know I’m more dependent on God. I’m more accepting of His will and trusting everything’s going to work out alright.”

David used to attend daily Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in St. Cloud, but they just moved to Texas to be closer to the children and for more family support. He still prays the rosary every day. He has a close connection with Mary and relies on the Memorare prayer, claiming Jesus and Mary’s help. He believes, if the Lord is allowing this, He will help him when he needs it.

“So far He has,” David said.

He tries not to think about what lies ahead. Instead, he makes Lou’s life as normal as possible, keeping up with her usual practices. Both are devout Catholics and David still takes Lou to Mass on Sundays. For a time, she wouldn’t receive Communion, so he would receive for both of them.

“When you get married, you become one in flesh and everything. So, I figured every time I went to Communion, that was Communion for her too because we’re one in spirit,” he said in a trembling voice, overcome with emotion.

David acknowledged for him, her condition “is spiritually confusing.”

“You say your prayers and you’re not quite sure what you should be praying for,” he said. So, he prays for a peaceful passing and a cure, although he doubts it will be in their lifetime.

Acknowledging his and Lou’s advanced age, he thinks about their future.

“It doesn’t really matter which one of us goes first. But I kind of hope it works out alright, that she has a good, long life and that I can make it as enjoyable for her as I can,” he said. “I know that I love her a lot and I want to do everything I can to help her get through this with the least possible stress.”

After a long pause he explained, “I try to make sure that we go places and do things. Although she may not understand it, I take her to concerts and the ballet. I just try to make sure she has a rich life.”

He continues to see God’s presence every day, especially in his children who now help to take care of their parents.

“Some of the questions you never get answered like, why it was me that He chose to go through it,” David said. “But then sometimes I think, if it had to happen, I feel honored that I was the one chosen to take care of her.”

Click here to watch the pope’s February prayer intention for the terminally ill.

How to Help
Dr. Rosemary Laird offers suggestions for helping the terminally ill and their caregivers.

  • Don’t pull back, feeling they need space or time.
  • Love and respect of friends and family they’ve had for their lifetime are essential to helping them move forward in a positive, healthy way.
  • Church family is important as friendship circles change due to discomfort with the disease.
  • Offer to pray with or simply spend time accompanying them.
  • Don’t say, “Let me know if I can help.” They’ll say no. Instead, offer a statement of what you can do specifically – bring a meal, sit with them while a caregiver takes a break to refuel or run errands.

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, February 22, 2024