Darlene remembers falling in love with Mike Snyder when she was 7 years old. However, he didn’t pay much attention to her until they started dating at age 16.
Even then, Mike sometimes stood her up.
But in time, Mike “came to his senses,” said Darlene, laughing.
It was a rocky way to start a love relationship, but it proved worthwhile because the two now have been happily married for over 20 years. Darlene has remained devoted to her husband even though he suffers from bad health and requires a lot of special care from her. She is a grand example of what it means to keep one’s marriage commitment through very tough times.
Nowadays, you’re likely to see the two riding their motorcycle on the curvy, rural roads of Madison County near their home in Kirksville. They often must stop along the way to pay attention to Mike’s health concerns. They’re nearly always well-prepared, for which Darlene can be thanked.
Mike began getting very sick in 1994. He developed pancreatitis and ulcerative colitis, and he also had gall bladder surgery. Despite feeling awful, he toughed it out and continued to work at his job driving heavy machinery for the Madison County Road Department. He didn’t stop playing his music, either, which was fun for him and a treat for the people in his community. He regularly appeared at nursing homes and churches where he sang, played the guitar, mandolin, dulcimer and banjo.
In 2003, Mike’s mother died. His father died a year later, and Mike became even more ill. Hospital visits became commonplace. More and more, he leaned on Darlene to support him–and she did. Through surgeries, home recoveries and all times between, Darlene demonstrated her love over and over.
When Mike had surgery involving removal of part of his excretory system, the result was the need for him to frequently go to the bathroom, often 20 to 30 times a day. Sometimes there were “accidents,” and while staying at the hospital with Mike, Darlene volunteered to help him with clean-ups, a job normally done by hospital staff. She also gathered up soiled linens and washed them at a local laundry mat, and she acted as a good listener and encourager to her husband.
Darlene remembers how Mike came to a point of severe discouragement during one of the hospital stays.
“It was one of the worst days of our marriage,” said Darlene, recalling that the pain and frustration of his illness became almost unbearable for her husband. He begged to be taken home from the hospital, and he threatened to “end it all” with his gun. She did all she could to soothe his anxiety and to keep control of her own emotions. After a nurse gave Mike some medicine to settle him down, Darlene expressed her own held-in feelings.
“After Mike received his medicine and went to sleep, I sat beside him in an uncomfortable chair and cried uncontrollably for hours,” she said. Then she walked down to the hospital’s chapel and received strength by meditating on her personal religious faith.
When the hospital visits became less frequent, and the couple was in the privacy of their home, Darlene thought hard about what she could do to help Mike feel more comfortable and to deepen their relationship. One idea made sense to her regarding his lonely bathroom time. She would simply bring a chair and join him there, in the bathroom, and use the time to enjoy good conversation. The time would become a positive, growing time of personal bonding.
“When my friends found out I was doing this, they thought it was funny, but sweet,” Darlene said.
Mike is unable to work at a regular job today and spends most of his time at home, where he does some of the couple’s cooking, helps with household chores, writes songs and plays his music. It’s when he feels reasonably well that the couple enjoy their scenic rides on their Yamaha 1300 motorcycle, where Darlene enjoys her hobby, photography, and shares the pictures with her Facebook friends and on her website.
Darlene works in the district court office in Richmond, and she checks on Mike often and is always ready to rush home if there is an urgent situation. She is a published writer, too, and she enjoys church leadership roles. Her first priority is her husband, though. He appreciates her for her tender caregiving.
“Darlene is an ordinary person who has been put into an extraordinary predicament and has faced the challenge with grace and dignity,” Mike said.
Truly, Darlene Snyder is a Kentuckian who has time-tested her promise to another person and proved herself one of high character.
And to think…it started way back when she was only seven.
Steve Flairty is a life-long Kentuckian, a teacher, public speaker and an author of three books, a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and two “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes,” collections of stories about ordinary people who do extraordinary things. He will publish a version of “Everyday Heroes” for kids this summer. This piece is an excerpt from that book. Steve is a correspondent for Kentucky Monthly. His column for KyForward appears weekly. Contact him at email@example.com.