In Sickness, Health

Ariana van den Akker

Opel Boling helps her husband, Darrel, out of bed after his morning nap. "Look at my handsome dude," she says while waking him up.

Sitting at the table, eating breakfast as they have done countless times over 50 years of marriage, Darrel Boling suddenly makes an obscene gesture at his wife, Opel. He doesn't like it when she wipes food off his face.

She knows he doesn't mean anything by it; the gestures started only after he was in a severe scooter accident that left him completely dependent upon her.

"I'm just thankful that it's not worse, and that I still have him at least, but it's not easy," Opel says. "It's lonely. It's so lonely. I just miss him so much."

After Opel and Darrel retired from factory jobs, she imagined they would spend more time going out together and relaxing.

But on July 7, 2005, Darrel decided to buy a gas-powered scooter. When he rode it out to show friends, the scooter slipped on loose gravel and Darrel fell into the road.  He was run over by a car, the impact cracking his skull and changing his life. Darrel was in a hospital for four months.

The first year after the accident was the hardest. Darrel sat and cried for most of each day. Sometimes he tried to escape the house or fight Opel.

"I just kept thinking maybe he would come back, maybe he'll be himself again," she said after tucking her husband into bed.

Darrel knows what's going on around him, but he struggles to communicate.  Most of the time, he just shrugs or points or shakes his fist.

After that rough first year, things got better. Darrel now cooperates when Opel changes his diapers and gives him a bath.  They go out every day. When they are home, she makes sure there is a Western on TV, because she knows it makes him happy.

Above all, Opel wants to make sure that Darrel knows she isn't going anywhere. In May, they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

"I still feel the same," she says. "I love him, and I'll take care of him until he dies."

After coming back from the bathroom, Opel Boling asks her husband of 50 years, "Did you miss me? Did you? Are you afraid you're gonna lose your honey? Well, I'm your honey."

Opel Boling leads her husband, Darrel, to the bed for a nap after undressing him. If he is not eating or out with Opel, he's usually napping, she says, because people with brain injuries need more rest than normal.

Darrel Boling waits for his wife, Opel, to clean his glasses. Opel had the bracelet made for him in case anything happens to him and she's not around. Darrel wears the bracelet everywhere.

Darrel Boling gives his wife, Opel, the bird after she wipes his face during breakfast. Because of his brain injuries, Darrel has become more childlike. One way of showing his defiance is by flipping off Opel. "At first I was really offended by it, but the doctor told me it don't mean anything," she said. "It's just because of his injuries."

Opel Boling helps husband Darrel up the ramp of their home after they went out for shopping and lunch. "I just like to get him out of the house every day," she says. "Otherwise he would just sleep all day, and that's not healthy."

Opel Boling undresses her husband, Darrel, so she can change his diaper before his afternoon nap. "He can't do much for himself anymore," she said. "At first he was really angry about it, but he's gotten used to it now."

Opel Boling kisses her husband, Darrel, to wake him up from a nap. This is how she always wakes him, with a gentle kiss. Opel has been Darrel's primary caregiver since he was in a severe scooter accident in 2005. She put photos of John Wayne on the wall next to his side of the bed because Darrel has always loved Wayne and Western movies. They have been married for 50 years.

Opal Boling reads a novel after she put her husband to bed. While Darrel is awake, she is always with him, so she relaxes when he's asleep.