AVON LAKE — You’ll never convince Theresa Saganes and her brothers that anything short of divine intervention enabled her parents to spend their final days together.
“We believe it was the hand of God,” the Medina woman said as she sat in the lobby of the Sprenger Health Care Systems Main Street Care Center in Avon Lake. Her parents, Joe and Faye Griffith, moved there last weekend.
“We thought Dad would never see Mom again this side of heaven,” Saganes said.
Faye, 79, who is grappling with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, was cared for at the Sprenger-owned Autumn Aegis center in Lorain until about a week ago.
Joe, 83, was still driving, getting around and attending church until a few weeks ago when an MRI showed bone cancer that had reached his pelvis. This complication came on top of earlier battles with bladder and lung cancer.
“They told us at best he has two months,” said Saganes, 56.
The couple has been married 61 years.
Working with hospice staff at the Avon Lake facility, the family ironed out details to have both of their parents live there together under Joe’s veterans benefits.
“We never thought we could afford anything like this,” Saganes said of the facility. “This is like the Taj Mahal.”
“Everything has happened so fast it’s hard to keep it all straight,” Saganes said.
“I sit here and hold my sweetheart’s hand,” Griffith said as bright sunshine bathed an open area beyond his window. His attractive white-haired wife dozed in a chair next to his bed.
Surrounded by Saganes and her brothers, David, 58, and Gary, 60, Griffith talked about his life and his faith.
A sister, Darlene Fister, 57, lives in Illinois.
Time spent attending “a little white church on Ninth Street” in Elyria, according to Saganes, was part of what Griffith called “God’s divine call” that led him to the ministry in the early 1960s.
The couple lived for years on Elyria’s Clinton Avenue where they raised their four children.
The family may not have been wealthy from a material standpoint, but it never lacked for what really mattered.
“We never lacked in necessities,” Gary said.
“We had so much love,” added Theresa.
Griffith pastored several small churches over more than 30 years.
“He always had a heart for small, struggling congregations and getting them back on track and renewing their faith,” said David, who is a retired Sandusky postmaster.
Joe Griffith most recently served at Lorain’s First Community Church of God, which he co-founded five years ago with Theresa and Gary.
A Korean War veteran, Griffith spoke of the bitterly cold winter months he spent as a member of the Army’s 92nd Armored Artillery Battalion. Known as the “Red Devils,” the unit saw considerable combat action that included the Inchon invasion.
“We were a hit-and-run outfit,” Griffith recalled. “We used half-tracks and would run in, provide fire and move on.”
The unit distinguished itself for the artillery support it gave to thousands of Marines during their withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir following bitter fighting against Chinese Communist forces in December 1950.
“They kept the corridor open so the Marines could evacuate,” Gary said.
Griffith talked of the notoriously cold conditions he and his fellow soldiers endured. “You don’t know how cold it is until it’s 10 below and you have to sleep on the ground because that’s all there is.”
His fond recollection of “those little chocolate bars” enjoyed by the troops brought smiles to his children and nurses.
“They were good and so hard they’d put a knot on your head if you threw them,” Griffith said.
After coming home, Griffith worked several construction jobs that saw him operate a road-roller during construction of the Ohio Turnpike in the early 1950s.
He also helped build the former Amherst Hospital as an employee of Hume Construction.
When the conversation turned to their mother, Gary spoke of how she always made a pot of coffee in the morning.
And then there was the food with which Faye expressed her love and sense of caring for others.
“Anyone could come any time of the day or night, and Mom would put a meal together,” Gary said. “She liked to make it and she liked to watch you eat it.”
David talked of recently going through boxes filled with Faye’s hand-written recipes.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” he said. “Mom always had the gift of hospitality and cooking.”
Pies, rolls and fried perch are fondly-remembered favorites.
And there was the fervor with which Faye would pray for others.
“She was always very faithful about praying,” Theresa said. “You had to be sure you really wanted something, because Mom would pray for it.”
Joe Griffith spoke more than once of his gratitude for the care given himself and his wife, especially during days “when you’re so sick you can’t hold your head up off the pillow.”
Griffith has lost more than 100 pounds in his struggle with cancer, Theresa said.
“We weren’t always sick,” Griffith said.
Sometimes it’s the seemingly insignificant things that help make one’s day.
“I like Pepsi and Coke, and someone brought me a big bottle of Coke the other day,” Griffith said.
“The little things can make us happy,” hospice nurse Michelle Piwinski said with a smile from a doorway.
David spoke of how the family’s faith and love for each other have kept them strong in such difficult circumstances.
“It’s been an emotional time for us,” David said. “It’s tough enough with one parent, let alone two.”
“They’re very strong, faithful people,” Saganes said. “My parents are the real McCoy.”
“It touches us all,” Piwinski said of the close-knit family’s devotion to each other. “It’s a privilege to take care of them.”