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Look at us

Daughter shares her parents' love story spanning 64 years

February 13, 2019
Diane Nauss Bierne , Estherville News

Editor's note: This is the full text of Diane Nauss Bierne's story of her parents, Jerry and Sherry Nauss that spanned 64 years. Staff Writer Amy H. Peterson condensed the story as told to for the Feb. 14 edition of the Estherville News.

I have a love story for the record books! It is one that I have watched my entire life; one that I have marveled at and admired from afar. However, this beautiful story of true love and unparalleled devotion is not my own personal love story, rather it is the love story of my parents. Their love story is no secret. If you live in Estherville, chances are you know this story quite well. It is one that many people have watched over the years and have admired from a distance. It is a remarkable union of two souls. It started out quite typical, like most love stories do, with two teenagers falling in love. However, it would develop into a rare expression of unwavering love, compassion, and commitment that would encompass 64 years of marriage and overcome many trials and tribulations. Its scope was measured on a level that very few people get to experience, that most of us only dream of. So, just what makes their story unique and unlike any other? Let me explain.

It all started at Mokes, a popular high school hangout back in the '50's. Dad was sitting in a booth when Mom walked in with some of her friends. Dad was instantly enamored and thought to himself, "I kind of like her. She's pretty sharp." Mom was in eighth grade and Dad was a junior. They soon began dating, and Dad would pick Mom up in his little black Studebaker. They did a lot of roller skating together at the skating rink which was located at the present-day bowling alley. Dad still has his skates with the pom poms on them, and they are still in the aluminum skating case from back in the day. Across the top of the case, you can see where Dad painted "Sherry." They continued to date for a couple of years, but it didn't take long to see that they were meant for each other, that this relationship was something special. Knowing full well that this was the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, Dad took Mom over to Mason City and they picked out their wedding rings together. That Christmas they got engaged. To ensure that nobody would try to stop them or attempt to convince them that, perhaps, they were a bit too young to make such a long-term commitment, they kept their plan, of getting married on New Year's Eve, a secret. Initially, only Mom's sister, Vernice, and Dad's cousin, Weldon, were aware of their confidential intentions. In fact, this unspoken knowledge put Vernice in a bit of a predicament. She was afraid that if she didn't tell her mom that Sherry was planning to get married soon, her mom would be mad at her. On the other hand, if she did tell her mom, then Sherry would be mad at her. In the end, her loyalty stayed true to her sister. For surely if others knew of their scheme, they would try to convince them that they would be better off to wait a few years and allow their relationship to mature. But these young hearts were so in love, and so certain of their intense feelings for one another that at the age of 16 and 19, Mom and Dad eloped. Pretending that they were going to a New Year's Eve dance, Mom and Dad were dressed in their finest attire and looking sharp! In fact, David Clemenson commented to them, "You look like you are going to a wedding!" Due to their age, they were previously denied a marriage license in both Spirit Lake and Worthington; however, they were able to secure one in Blue Earth, MN. So, at 7 o'clock on New Year's Eve, 1954, Mom and Dad were united in marriage at the Methodist Church in Blue Earth as Dad's cousin, Weldon, and his wife, Marlys, stood up for them. After the wedding, Mom and Dad set sail on their honeymoon which would take them to Mason City, Cedar Rapids, and their final destination of Chicago where they would spend a couple of days with mom's brother, Bob, and his wife, Joyce. Meanwhile, Weldon and Marlys returned to Estherville and told Dad's father, Fred, about the elopement that took place earlier in the evening. Even though he didn't drink, that night Fred made an exception as he broke out the Mogen David Wine and made a toast as this, certainly, was a cause worthy of celebration! For now, it was official. Now their union was complete. Now they could continue to explore and build upon the foundation that would enable them to find out exactly what true love entailed. Some people said it wouldn't last. Those people were, oh, so wrong.

Article Photos

Jerry and Sherry Nauss were engaged Christmas Day, 1954.

Over the years that followed, Mom and Dad's love would continue to flourish. They initially lived with Mom's parents for the first 14 months of their marriage. Her dad bought them a lot upon which they built their very first home. Then on St. Patrick's Day of 1956, they moved into their brand-new house that Dad helped to build. They would live in this same home for the rest of their years together. Dad was a cabinet maker by trade, and Mom did not work outside the home until their children were all grown. To her, there was no greater calling in life than raising the four children that God had entrusted to her care. Through it all, it became quite evident that their relationship was synonymous with "true love." For at the heart of its essence, true love is caring. True love is commitment. True love is devotion. True love is putting somebody else's needs before your own because you love that person to the core, and you treasure their inner being. It's giving your entire existence to someone who means the world to you. Mom and Dad had all these things. The love that they shared was something beyond special. Yet, the thing that makes their love story so extraordinary wasn't fully noticed in their youth; rather, it would not come to fruition until many years later.

Fast forward to 2002. That is the year that Mom was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's. That is the year that would begin a life altering journey for all of us. It was a journey that was filled with heartbreak and challenges, but a journey that was still overflowing with love. When love is encompassed by illness, the strings of devotion take on a whole new meaning. They require a whole new level of commitment. Essentially, these heart strings are tested to their inner core. In this case, they were frayed, tattered, weathered, and torn, but never once broken. In fact, they became intertwined with a greater and stronger sense of unity. It merely served to make their relationship that much stronger and their love story that much more beautiful. It created an everlasting bond that was gracious in love and embraced in righteousness and purity. Despite adversities and hardships, Dad's love for Mom was unwavering, and the challenges brought great strength and renewal. He never left her side, and he was bound and determined to be her primary caregiver until the very end. Piece by piece, bit by bit, Mom eventually slipped into her own world of isolation as Alzheimer's trapped her in a mental prison and made its merciless attack on human life and human dignity. Although it got to the point where we could no longer carry on conversations with her, I know that she sensed our presence. Deep down inside, she was still there. Still listening, still loving, and still spreading joy to all of those around her. Even when she no longer knew us by name, she knew us by heart. And she held on to Dad's heart the very longest. Even in the midst of confusion and forgetfulness, she still remembered Dad and would often ask for him and call him by name. "Jerry." "Where's Jerry?" she would ask. Theirs was a once in a lifetime love story. They always did everything together. The two of them were inseparable. When Mom broke both of her shoulders and had to be in the nursing home for five weeks, Dad spent every day from 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. beside her side, and he fed her every single meal. He set an example of true love and commitment that would bear witness until Mom's last breath. And as their "Keeper of the Stars" theme song clearly expresses, it certainly was not an accident nor simply by chance that Mom and Dad found each other all those years ago and then went on to share their lifetime of devotion. Surely it was part of God's plan right from the very beginning, long before any of us knew that such a beautiful love story would unfold. And for that, all glory be to God, for as their song states, "He sure knew what He was doing when He joined these two hearts."

But just what was it that allowed Mom to beat the odds and continue this life of love? Why were we blessed with all those extra years with her while millions of other Alzheimer's patients facing the same plight succumbed to this dreadful disease much earlier? Was it her fighting spirit? Perhaps. But more than anything, I think it is plain to see that it was love! The love and care that Dad gave to her was extraordinary and beyond measure. We all watched it. We all were amazed by it. We all were inspired by it. Their love for each other was something very unique. Mom once wrote this tribute as she spoke fondly about Dad: "My mind hurtled back through time and space to those young, glorious days with Jerry, days that had been the happiest of my life. We'd been so in love, Jerry and I so madly, crazily, terribly in love. It was a love that can only come once in a lifetime, a miracle that is granted only to some and granted only once." So, there you have it. That explains it fully. The reason Mom lived so long was because of her love for Dad and the love that Dad gave her in return. It didn't matter if they could no longer do the things that they once loved such as country western dancing or traveling down to Florida to see me. As long as they could be together, they were just as content to sit side by side holding hands while watching television. Some people's golden years are marked by travel and fun adventures. Alzheimer's robbed my parents of that opportunity. But one thing it could never take from them is their love and devotion for one another. No matter what obstacle they faced or how hard days became, Dad's love for Mom was steadfast. He always had an answer, and he was bound and determined to keep her at home because 1.) He couldn't stand to be without her, and 2.) He knew that this is where she would thrive and receive the best care. But as Mom's illness progressed, it was more than Dad could handle alone. He needed some help to ensure that this love story could continue on the same path that he envisioned. So, to make this happen, he brought in a phenomenal group of caregivers who would come to the house on a daily basis and help him tend to Mom's every need. Dad and this team of support that he created was, without a doubt, the reason that Mom was able to live long beyond the typical life expectancy of a person with Alzheimer's. Dad was with her day in and day out. Even though the heavy lifting took a toll on his own health, he continued to care for her with unselfish, unbridled, and unconditional love. Despite two knees that were bone on bone and in desperate need of knee replacement, Dad refused to have surgery because that would mean that he could no longer help take care of Mom, and she would, inevitably, then have to go into a nursing home. So, without hesitation and without regret, he continued on with this vital mission. Along the way, he would unknowingly be touched by faith and the grace of God that would give him the hope, renewal, and strength to carry on and complete this labor of love. Throughout this journey, we all were reminded to trust The Master Weaver and place our faith in God, for in Him, all things are truly possible. Through Him love knows no boundaries. Through Him love bears all things and endures all things even through life's greatest hardships.

On January 20th, 2019, at 10:45 a.m., after 17 years of battling Alzheimer's, Mom finally went to her forever home. Fittingly, she took her last breath in the very home where Mom and Dad had created and stored all those years of love. Essentially, this was the house where they had spent their entire life together. Naturally, Dad was sitting right beside her the whole time and continued to hold her hand until the last possible moment. While he would eventually have to let go of her hand, he will forever hold on to her heart. She is now in her final resting place with the Lord, God our Savior. Defining years and Alzheimer's may have taken Mom from this earthly world, but they cannot take away the memories and the love that Mom and Dad shared and that, ultimately, defined their relationship of true love. Now Mom can rest easy. Now she is at peace. Now her job on Earth is done. Now she can dance and play the piano and do all the things that she once enjoyed. She can do them to her heart's content. She can do them with all those loved ones who have been waiting for her with open arms up above. At last her spirit is free, and her mind is uncluttered once again. Now she can enjoy her new-found freedom.

But where does that leave Dad? After a lifetime of unrivaled love and incomparable devotion, now he is left alone to persevere and pick up the broken pieces of an empty, devastated, and heavy heart. How can he possibly be expected to walk this life alone without his one true love and soulmate, the one person who made his life complete? While it will not be easy, I promise, it will be worth it. There is still so much to live for. So many more wonderful memories lie in store. Life will continue, and life will be beautiful once again. Give it time. Give it peace. Give the shattered heart a chance to heal. Sit in silence and listentruly listenMom is still there. Still watching. Still loving. Still caring. Her legacy lives on in the hearts of all those who love her. She has already sent us many signs. We have already been blessed with divine intervention and "Godwinks" that let us know that her spirit is ever present. Surely Mom will continue to speak to Dad's heart and care for him, just as he so diligently cared for her. Although nobody can fill the void or erase the emptiness that plagues his heart, Dad definitely will not have to walk this journey alone. Granted, nobody will ever be able to take Mom's place of distinction, but he can rest assured that we will get through this together. Thankfully, the memories and the love that Mom and Dad created over the years of this enchanting love story will help to sustain Dad and get him through the difficult days ahead and the most trying time of his life. Yes, the pain is great and at times even unbearable, but the pain is merely a reflection of how deeply his heart has loved. In the end, I am certain that despite his great loss and the heart-wrenching ending to this beautiful, alluring love story, Dad would, without a doubt, go back and do it all over again while proudly proclaiming along the way, "If you want to see, how true love should be, then just look at us."



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