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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Everyday Heroes: Couple stays true to vows
to love each other ‘in sickness and in health’

Darlene Snyder, with her husband Mike at Red River Gorge, says she fell in love with Mike at the age of 7. (Photo provided)


By Steve Flairty
KyForward columnist

Darlene fell in love with Mike Snyder when she was 7 years old. Her adoration for him was not returned for a long time, however. Mike didn’t notice her until she was 16, and then they started dating. Even then, there were complications. “At first, he started standing me up,” she said, grinning, “but finally, I guess he came to his senses.”

Today, it would be a real stretch to find a stronger marriage and a tighter bond than this couple has. Darlene saw the light early. She has demonstrated her love to Mike over and over. He has received, appreciated, and loved her back. “That woman has saved my life,” he remarked. Truly, as Mike knows, it’s hard to turn away the kind of love that has saved your life.

Motorcycle trips in the country are a favorite pastime of the Snyders. (Photo provided)

Nowadays, you might see the two lovebirds riding their motorcycle together on the curvy, rural roadways of Kentucky, usually not far from their home in Kirksville, in Madison County. They have fun, enjoy pleasant scenery and grow in their companionship. They stop a lot, too, not because they want to stop, but because they must – for Mike, who has some health issues. Thankfully, they’re always well-prepared for the stops. Darlene sees to that. She’s loved him since she was 7.

Since 1994, Mike hasn’t been well. For years he dealt with pancreatitis, colitis and also had gall bladder surgery “He was in the hospital a while, got taken care of, then was out. But then he’d have to go back,” said Darlene. It was aggravating for Mike, but he continued to work hard driving heavy equipment for the Madison County Road Department “That’s all I’d ever known,” he remarked. He also had musical talent that he generously shared with others. He played in local churches, including his own, Kirksville Baptist. He regularly appeared at several nursing homes. He played the guitar, banjo, dulcimer, and mandolin and sang with undying enthusiasm of his religious faith. Unfortunately, his health difficulties began to worsen. A condition in the colon called ulcerative colitis caused ulcers to develop, and Mike became, said Darlene, “one sick puppy.”

The toughest of times began in 2003 when Mike’s mother died and he became sicker. Remembering the many relatively happy years of marriage, church, a good job, family and raising an only child, circumstances were now changing drastically. And even though the couple held tightly to their strong, religious faith, “Everything was falling apart,” said Darlene. In 2004, Mike’s father died. That same year doctors performed a protocollectomy procedure, an operation that removed the entire colon and rectum. A “J-pouch,” or reservoir for collection of bodily wastes, was formed by stretching the small intestine. The procedure is bold and is not without complications. The pouch is small, and predictably, necessitated frequent emptying, meaning an inordinate number of trips to the bathroom – sometimes as many as 20 to 30 times per day.

Darlene's and Mike's love for each other is symbolized in a tree. (Photo provided)

Without fail, Darlene was a constant, encouraging companion. Through surgeries and regular hospital visits, home convalescing and all times between, her age seven declared love demonstrated itself over and over. That included helping Mike clean himself when accidents occurred outside the bathroom. Often during his hospital stays, Darlene, at his side, helped Mike with much of his cleaning. That included the wastes that were on the floor, on the sheets and his gown.

“The nurses tended to do less of it since I helped, and it got to be a process for me. I would gather his clothes, go to a nearby laundry mat, then bring them back to his room clean. That also gave me a bit of a break,” she said. On one particular occasion, “one of the worst days since we married,” said Darlene, Mike became consumed with both pain and frustration. He begged to be taken home from the hospital, where he “would end it all with his gun.” Darlene, in anguish herself, did all she could to soothe and encourage him as a nurse sedated him. “After he received the Valium and was asleep, I sat beside his bed in an uncomfortable chair and cried uncontrollably for hours.” The chilling episode passed, then Darlene made her way downstairs to the chapel—and welcome relief came. “I allowed God’s peace to wash over me,” she said.

After his long stays in the hospital were less frequent, and when they were in the privacy of their home, Darlene thought about ways to help Mike be more comfortable. One idea began to make sense in regard to Mike’s solitary bathroom time. The time, she reasoned, might be used for greater gain.

Darlene would simply join him there.

“I pulled a chair into the bathroom so I could talk with Mike,” she said very matter-of-factly. Though not under the most pleasant environment, the two discussed, and shared, typical items that long married people converse about: their wants, their needs, their son who graduated from Bible college, church life, the price of gasoline, local news – and, their caring sentiment toward each other. “When my friends found out I was doing this, they thought it was funny, but sweet,” Darlene mentioned. It shouldn’t surprise that a love that began at age 7 often has a history of funny and sweet things accumulated.

Darlene shared another poignant, even humorous story when the couple visited a favorite local restaurant. “Mike did a fine job of not overeating. He excused himself and went to the bathroom, and he had been gone for some time when I checked on him. He was in one of the messes that would be too graphic to describe. In order to keep other people from seeing the result of his mess, I told him I would walk real close behind him and we could head straight for the car. We shuffled along and did not look to see if others were watching.” Traumatic situation for the two? “We have laughed about it on many occasions and wondered what the people thought. when they saw us walking like that,” she said.

Though doctors hoped that the J-pouch procedure would allow him to return to work, cold practicality made it almost impossible—there would be way too many interruptions to be effective. Today, Mike 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. Darlene, from her workplace in the district court office in Richmond, checks on him often and is always ready to rush home in an urgent time. She loves to take church leadership roles, but for Mike, has had to curtail many of them. When Mike feels well enough, the couple get in gear with their Yamaha 1300 motorcycle for a trip in the country. She prepares a bag of supplies and knows good and well that their trip may be a short one, but even a small time together, having fun, is important to them. It’s been that way for Darlene since age 7.

Darlene is a multitask extraordinaire. Despite her full-time job at the Madison County District Court and total dedication to one Mike Snyder, plus her church work she is a fledgling published writer. She recently had a magazine article published in Kentucky Monthly about Mike and her motorcycle adventures. She is currently working on a book dealing with how to be a pastor’s wife, with inspiration coming from her daughter-in-law, married to her pastor son.

In describing Darlene and her uncommon devotion to his needs, Mike Snyder speaks eloquently. “Darlene is an ordinary person who has been placed in an extraordinary predicament and has faced the challenge with grace and dignity.”

She truly has, since back when she was 7-years-old.

Steve Flairty is a lifelong Kentuckian, teacher, public speaker and author of four books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and three in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series. All of Steve’s books are available around the state or from the author. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly as well as being a weekly KyForward contributor. Watch his KyForward columns for excerpts from all his books. His most recent book, Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes for Kids is now available at local bookstores, and Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #3, Steve’s fifth book, will be released in early 2013. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or “friend” him on Facebook. (Steve’s photo by Ernie Stamper)

To read more from Steve Flairty, click here.



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