“In sickness and in health.”
Then the coronavirus reared its ugly head and turned life upside down. For the first time in their marriage, Dave Belew, 88, was unable to see his wife, 88. That left a hole in his heart. He felt empty. Incomplete.
That’s when he thought of a unique way to reconnect with the love of his life.
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At 6 p.m. every day — right after Marge finishes eating dinner — she receives a phone call from her husband as he sits in their home in the Rossville Historic District, about four miles from the retirement village. They talk for a few minutes about that day’s activities.
Then he simply asks: “Are you ready for a concert?”
She never says no.
He places the phone on one of the two grand pianos in their house and plays “Margie,” the same song that begins every concert. Then he plays four or five more songs and concludes with a hymn, an “inspirational way to end,” he said.
On Easter Sunday, he played several Stephen Foster songs and finished with “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”
As his weathered fingers float across the keys, if only for 20 minutes or so, the years slip away and the Belews forget about the coronavirus. Life is normal again. And right now “normal” has never sounded better.
“Music is so powerful, so healing,” he said. “It transforms your problems, everything. It connects.”
He paused on the phone.
“We communicate through music,” he said.
Katie Crank, director of resident services at Westover, has watched the Belews interact over the years. Before COVID-19, husband visited wife daily, sometimes twice, and always ate with her in the dining room, Crank said. But now visitors are prohibited.
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Other couples at Westover who have found themselves separated because of the virus communicate through social media.
The Belews prefer music.
“He’s totally devoted,” Crank said.
She had a conversation with a health aid who was in Marge’s room one night when her husband played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” She held the phone out so the aid could listen. When the song was over, she told the aid, “Oh, yes. He loves me.”
Belew said his wife had major cancer surgery in 1986; was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a rare disease that affects her arms, legs and breathing; and suffers from short-term memory loss.
“She’s has had it rough,” he said.
After attending different junior highs in the city, they graduated from Hamilton High School in 1949. She is older by 20 days.
“Never let her forget that,” he said with a laugh.
He served as president at Beckett Paper Co. until he retired in 1992. His wife stayed home and raised their two children, Guy, who died in 2014, and Sally, who lives in Michigan.
Music has always played a role in their lives.
He learned to play the piano by ear when he was 6, while his wife took piano lessons at the Colorado Women’s College. One room in their house is called the “music room.” He has been a member of the Trinity Episcopal Church and sang in the choir for 66 years. He has played the piano for local fundraisers and has given several concerts at Westover.
The Belews have established a college scholarship through the Hamilton Community Foundation for a graduating senior studying music.
“We want to pay it forward,” he said.
Then the conversation switched from college to the coronavirus.
“Every morning I think this is like a real bad dream or nightmare,” he said. “It’s very scary, a real battle, a real war. I pray for it to end.”
As Belew sat in his house, he was asked about that night’s concert playlist. He knew the first song and the last. He hadn’t prepared for the middle.
The title of the songs didn’t matter. Spending precious time with his wife did.
“When I play a song, it triggers a certain memory, reminds me of the love and experiences we have had together,” he said. “Music has been very important all of our lives and even more now. Faith has brought us together and music will help us bounce back.”