It’s a sign: Even in loss, love never fails
MURRELLS INLET, S.C. – This is a story of great love and of great loss. It is a story of two wives and their devotion to their husbands. And, most of all, it is a story of a sign – a sign that, even in the darkness of a pandemic, love never fails.
Leisa Merrick stood in the parking lot of Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital last Monday night. Sobbing. Frantic with worry. Her husband, Alan, had been rushed to the emergency department, and – because of visitor restrictions to limit the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus – she couldn’t go inside.
The fear was paralyzing. Overwhelming. And then she saw it. A handwritten sign in a window high above the ER: Love Never Fails.
Leisa’s fear immediately turned to peace.
“I had an instant feeling of calm when I saw this beautiful sign,” Leisa, who works as a medical coder for Tidelands Health, says now. “I didn’t know who put it there, but it reminded me of the great team behind those doors giving loving care to my husband. It was then that I found my faith, as I was reminded he was in good hands.”
Days earlier, Karen Bainbridge had stood in that same parking lot. Felt that same worry. That same sense of helplessness.
Her husband of 57 years, Arthur, was in the hospital’s critical care unit, being treated for complications from a stroke.
Karen was heartbroken – but not deterred – when she wasn’t allowed inside because of visitor restrictions. She had to find a way to be with Arthur, just as she had been for nearly six decades. So she decided to set up a spot outside the hospital by his window and “visit” that way.
She peered up, trying to count out which window might be the one to her beloved Arthur’s room.
“Could it be that window? Or maybe that one,” she recalls thinking. “I stopped security guards and asked them. Nobody knew.”
But she had to know. She called the critical care unit to speak with her husband’s nurse, Nichole Stacy. Maybe, if it wasn’t too much trouble, Nichole could take just a minute to wave from the window so Karen could find Arthur’s room.
“If I knew, I’ll be able to throw kisses to the window, throw prayers to the window,” Karen recalls telling Nichole. “Could you please do something?”
The request touched the hearts of the hospital’s critical care team – the front-line professionals who care for the hospital’s most critically ill patients. And what happened next shows just how much those caregivers care.
“The next thing I know, this humongous yellow sign with ‘Love Never Fails’ and a heart and bold letters appears,” Karen says. “Nichole took time from her overwhelmed schedule -- she took those few minutes to put up that sign so I would know exactly where he was.
“I will never forget her sweetness. That meant so much to me. How is there a thank you for that? At a time when there is so much pain, so much anguish, the beautiful gesture of them making that sign meant more than words could ever express.”
Nichole says she didn’t think twice about taking a few moments to make the sign. She was so moved by Karen’s plea – and genuine love for her husband – that she wanted to do anything she could to help.
“We were happy to deliver,” Nichole says. “Our team came up with this solution so she could visit him without actually visiting him. It was heartwarming.”
Karen began daily visits with Arthur. She would bring her blue folding beach chair, sit outside the window and gaze up at “Love Never Fails.” She blew kisses his way. Sent prayers to his room.
And she felt a sense of peace.
“I was so young when I met him,” Karen says, “He was the love of my life then, and he is the love of my life now.”
After receiving treatment for high blood pressure in the ER, Leisa’s husband, Alan, was able to return home, where he is recovering.
Tragically, Karen’s beloved Arthur passed away in the early morning hours of April 16. She was allowed to come inside the hospital – to see him, to hold him, in his final moments.
Leisa and Karen have never met. But they each cried when they heard the other’s story – two women brought together by their love for their husbands and a handwritten cardboard sign.
“Just a simple little sign made a world of difference,” Leisa says.
For Karen, there is comfort in knowing her love for Arthur – and her connection with him in his final days – brought peace to another worried wife.
“If it brought her just a little peace in her heart,” Karen says of the sign, her Arthur’s sign, “I hope that does become a symbol of something.”
Love never fails.
Editor’s note: Neither Arthur nor Alan was treated for COVID-19. But their stories show the impact of the pandemic even on those who don’t have the virus.