Mark and I bought our first home in March 1981 located in Sandy, Utah. It was friendly neighborhood and we felt welcomed immediately. We lived in that home for sixteen years and still keep in touch with many of our friends there. Today, I’m writing about two who influenced our lives greatly.
I don’t remember the first time I met Kay or Nolan Ellett, because they had lived in the neighborhood for many years before we moved there and they were several years older than we were. They had two boys, Jr and Bobby. At first, it didn’t seem we had much in common, but we went to the same church and I knew they were a happy and friendly family.
Mark and Nolan were both electricians by trade and had been employed by Arco Electric, however not at the same time. They had many co-workers and friends in common. Nolan joined the union and was working for Wasatch Electric. While on the job-site, one day in March, 1986, Nolan moved a board he didn’t realize was covering a hole and stepped into it, falling fifteen feet. That was the first I’d ever heard of a traumatic brain injury.
Nolan was in a coma for a few months. He was first taken to Holy Cross and then to the University of Utah Hospital. In June he was flown to a rehab center in California that specialized in head trauma. Nolan was there for six months, while Kay lived in their trailer close to the rehab center. Jr had just graduated from high school and drove Bobby as often as school and work would permit, to visit their parents in California. Kay and Nolan were back home just in time for Christmas in 1986.
Kay took Nolan everywhere. I’d see them at the grocery store, at church and all the neighborhood social events. Nolan was wheelchair dependent and had little use of his hands. Kay pushed him wherever they went and had to feed him. Nolan rarely spoke, but Kay understood his needs, they had their own way of communicating. Love radiated between them.
I admired Kay’s strength, dedication, perseverance and positive attitude. She always wore a smile. I often thought, I could never be like Kay or do what she does. As much as I respected Kay and Nolan, I felt awkward around them. They were different and I didn’t know what to say or how to act. I would acknowledge them but my interactions were brief because I was uncomfortable . . . before our accident.
After our car accident . . . five years later, Kay became my hero, and mentor. She knew everything I was feeling: my fears, frustrations, worries and hardships. And now, I understood hers and we had everything in common. Kay and Nolan visited us often in the hospital and rehab center. I visited them in their home, learning what I would need to do before bringing Mark home. She called me often to encourage and to listen. She was wise, compassionate and empathetic to our situation. She always knew just what to say.
Kay took care of Nolan with the support of her two boys for fourteen years, until the day she died of cancer in the year 2000. She was only fifty-three. I was devastated – not only for me, but for Nolan and their family.
It seemed so unfair – until Nolan joined Kay in death five months later. I’m sure those were the longest days of Nolan’s life. Their love was enduring, unconditional and so inspiring. I often imagine how jubilant their reunion was and the joy they feel now – free from physical pain and limitations.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d be a caregiver – as Kay was. But since I am one, I try to be a caregiver – exactly as Kay was. I will be forever grateful for her example.