‘In Sickness and In Health’: Local Couple Faces End-of-Life Journey with Courage


“In sickness and in health” are five simple words couples pledge on their wedding day. These words become the most sacred of promises during challenging times.

Debra and Mike of Dauphin County have kept this vow for 57 years of marriage. During their decades together they have raised two children, hosted countless holiday meals and celebrated birthday parties in the home they have shared for 52 years. Their lives changed when the “in sickness” chapter began six years ago when Mike’s health began to deteriorate. But Debra is not alone in caring for Mike. She has the compassion and support of Homeland Hospice to help her keep her promise.

Mike has struggled with various health challenges since 2009 when he underwent heart bypass surgery. His health began to decline rapidly in 2017 when he was diagnosed with Venous Disease, which forms painful blisters and skin discoloration from his knees to his ankles. The severity of the disease makes him unable to walk without the assistance of a walker. Around this time, Mike was also diagnosed with dementia.

In November of 2022, the culmination of Mike’s illnesses led to a 10-day hospital stay. Debra and her children knew Mike could not come home and solely rely on the care of his family. Debra was aware of Homeland’s reputation for high-quality, compassionate care and explored their continuum of care services. She toured Homeland Center, a private, nonprofit retirement community in Harrisburg, as well as the organization’s outreach services.

“I wanted to know all the possible options of care for Mike’s changing health needs,” Debra says. “Homeland alleviated my concerns.”

Debra and her children decided home care would provide Mike the most comfort and peace. Debra’s son rearranged the living room for Mike’s return from his hospital stay.

“Mike’s bed faces the window so he can watch the deer outside,” Debra says. “I know this brings him joy.”

When Mike first returned home, he received palliative care services from Homeland to help manage his health issues. As his well-being continued to decline, Mike transitioned to Homeland Hospice care for his end-of-life journey.

Mike’s dementia and advanced health issues makes communication and movement very difficult. Dementia doesn’t just impact individuals with the disease. It places a significant emotional burden on caregivers, as they strive to adjust to the stages and nuances of the illness.

Through the services offered by Homeland Hospice, Mike receives routine visits from a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) to help with bathing and dressing as well as medication reminders and administration. Mike also has the support of a nurse and social worker to provide a complete team of support. Recently, Mike began receiving massages to relieve pain. This is part of the complementary therapies offered by Homeland Hospice.

“Everyone genuinely cares about us,” Debra says. “I no longer spend every minute of my day consumed by worry.”

In addition to medical care and support, Mike has received cards and notes of encouragement from volunteers around the country. The cards are delivered thanks to the generous efforts or Homeland volunteers and Volunteer Match, an online program to engage individuals with volunteer opportunities.

“Mike and I look forward to receiving cards,” Debra adds. “We are very grateful for this act of love and kindness.”

The support provided by Homeland Hospice brings Debra peace of mind and allows her and Mike to live each day as fully as possible.

“I appreciate every minute Mike and I have together,” Debra says. “It is in God’s hands now.”

For more information about Homeland Hospice, call (717) 221-7890.