WESLACO — As she clutched her wedding photo, Elizabeth “Betty” Nelson’s trembling hands belied a semblance of strength she exhibited when sharing her story.
It was a tender moment that, while lasting a few seconds, captured a lifetime of love that grows each day she cares for her terminally ill husband, Richard.
“Everything really is in the hands of the Lord,” Betty said of his condition.
Though appearing somewhat weary, her faith remains unfazed in the wake of Richard’s devastating diagnosis — a cancerous brain tumor that’s untreatable.
It’s news that came less than a year after he survived lung cancer, and only five months following the couple’s permanent move to the Rio Grande Valley.
“He went into Valley Baptist (Medical Center) on Dec. 10 and was diagnosed with two tumors on the right side of his brain,” Betty said, adding that subsequent surgery and rehabilitation did not prevent what was to come.
“The day after Christmas, he didn’t feel like eating or doing anything. That was on a Saturday, and then Sunday was the same. On Monday, they told me they wanted to move him back to Valley Baptist. So back he went, and on New Year’s Day he was transferred to a hospice house with a small tumor that had doubled in size. At this time, they said there was nothing they could do for him.”
These are some of the difficult moments Betty described on Monday afternoon as she sat inside the living room of the Aurora House in Weslaco, a special care facility for the terminally ill where Richard now resides. But there are memories the 70-year-old Minnesota transplant also holds onto — meeting Richard, marrying, becoming parents, building a life together and retiring in Weslaco.
“We even share the same birthday,” she added. “We were born on the same day, Aug. 5, but five years apart. He’s 75 and I’m 70.”
Betty said the Aurora House has been such a blessing to the Nelsons that it’s even made room for new memories. Among them are sponge baths, polite conversation and overnight accommodations for family as well as reasonable visiting hours, clean facilities and warmth that emanates from the home.
It’s the Aurora House employees, however, that won over Richard and Betty.
“Any place can be a home, but it’s the staff that makes you feel welcome,” Betty said. “They have everything you would need, from a chaplain to a chapel, blankets and pillows. I don’t think I could have picked a better place. Even our son, who has a 5-year-old in San Juan, is welcome here.”
Aurora House Director Kathy Scheuerman said it’s no surprise the Nelsons feel at peace in the home, where she stressed that comfort for patients and their families is the staff’s foremost concern.
“You’re treated with dignity here,” Kathy said.
Such vital services come at a cost, which is why the director identified the donations the Aurora House receives from the general public as paramount.
According to Kathy, the nonprofit’s main source of revenue are monetary contributions that help fund an annual budget of $212,000 and a staff of 15 dedicated employees.
As one of the 21 beneficiary organizations of the annual AIM Media Texas Charities fundraising effort, Kathy hopes money generated during the 2015-16 campaign will help the Aurora House continue its effectiveness in comforting families like the Nelsons.
“If we didn’t have money coming in from the general public we wouldn’t operate, because we operate strictly on the generosity of the community,” Kathy said. “We do have a couple of grants, but they’re not for operational expenses.”
AIM Media Texas — parent company of the Valley Morning Star, the Mid-Valley Town Crier, The Monitor in McAllen and The Brownsville Herald — is covering the campaign’s administrative costs and will donate 100 percent of all monies generated to the charities. The campaign runs through Jan. 31.
It’s assistance Kathy said the Aurora House is grateful for, especially when considering its impact on the lives of families who are suffering.
“It takes a special person to work here … not everybody can do this,” Kathy stressed. “I’ve heard people ask, ‘How can you stand it?’ But I love it — to comfort family members and be with patients.
“Our staff could even go to McDonald’s and make more money than they do here, but all the girls just absolutely love their job. It’s very fulfilling to feel like you made a difference in someone’s life, to create extra peace and comfort and to just hold their hand.”