Friends Like Family

Donna CallDonna Call has more than thirty-six years of life experience on me, yet we instantly became good friends. She was older than my own mother and shared her first name. It was an unlikely friendship under different circumstances, but our similar situation has bonded us together since 1991. She called me her soul sister when we met at Mackay Dee Hospital in the ICU waiting room while my husband, Mark, was in a coma after a car accident and her husband, Wayne, was also in a coma after complications from heart surgery.

Wayne and Donna Call lived in Burley, Idaho while we lived in Sandy, Utah. The miles between us make it doubtful that we would have met otherwise, yet our husband’s critical health conditions put us together under the same roof in the Ronald McDonald home as directed by the hospital.

This small house, which was located by the hospital parking lot, became my home away from home. It had two bedrooms, one bath and living room with a couch, reclining chair and television. The kitchen had a small table, fridge, stove, a few dishes and utensils. In the beginning, I was assigned the basement of this home, which was set up just like the upstairs. After a few days, some plumbing issue surfaced and I had to move upstairs with the Call family. Donna had one room and I had the other. Each bedroom had a double size bed plus bunk beds. I don’t recall a dresser, but there was a closet to put our clothes in. My broken collarbone made it difficult to sleep while lying down, so we squeezed one of the recliner chairs in the bedroom in front of the closet. There was just a little pathway between the bunkbeds and the double bed and another small pathway between the foot of the double bed and the recliner chair. Sometimes I shared this room with our two children and my parents when they came to visit and on weeknights my brothers often took turns staying there.

Donna and Wayne had six kids and since she was spending most of the time at the hospital with her husband, their kids took turns bringing her needed items and staying overnight with her. I believe before I moved upstairs, Donna had a room and whoever came to visit had the second room. Even though I cut their living space in half, they welcomed me with open arms. Once in a while it was such a full house they used sleeping bags on the floor in the living room. We got to know each other well over a seven week period of time. Despite Donna’s own heartache, she took me under her wing, making sure my needs were taken care of and made me feel part of their family.

If it was getting late and I wasn’t home, Donna worried about me. If I didn’t have a family member staying over, she’d send one of her boys to Mark’s room to check on me. They offered to walk me home. They were concerned about my well-being and crossing the dark parking lot alone. I appreciated they cared enough to make sure I made it to the McDonald home safe and sound. They’re kindness was inspiring, especially because they had their own worries and sorrow. I will forever appreciate their friendship. I was grateful for the comfort of this home which became a safe haven from the upset of the hospital. When their only daughter, Janice, came to visit and stayed in the McDonald home, we’d stay up late sharing tears of concern for our loved ones. Amongst the turmoil and worrying about Mark as well as missing my own home and family, I received the great blessing of new friends. Over a seven week period of time they became my hospital family.

Bear Tree 3We moved onto Western Rehab and a few months later Wayne got well enough to return home for three more years until cancer took his life in 1994. For our first Christmas after the accident they mailed us a package full of many adorable bears they had made together out of logs and branches. With the box was a letter explaining they had made each of their children these bears through the years so each family member had a “bear tree” for Christmas. It was a symbol of their love for us. I treasure our “bear tree” and every Christmas as I put it out I’m reminded of their loving care.

This bond has continued on for nearly twenty-five years. We’ve made trips to Burley, Idaho to visit them. We’ve stayed in contact through letters and phone calls. Despite our age difference and the miles between us, our similar experience and concern for one another kept us together. This is a friendship I will be eternally thankful for.

Donna died on her 93rd birthday, January 12, 2016. We made another trip to Burley Saturday for her funeral. By all those who were in attendance, I realized she was loved by many and made all who knew her feel just as important as she made me feel. I enjoyed reuniting with her children and recognized what a tribute their lives are to her. I don’t know a kinder, more thoughtful lady and I will miss her. Donna and her children were a light of hope and beacon of courage during a very dark time for me. I am blessed to know her and her family. I’m thrilled for her as I think about the great reunion she is having with her husband now.