- Associated Press - Saturday, November 7, 2015

ST. CHARLES, Mo. (AP) - The dining room table and chairs are gone. So are the lamps and coffee table from the living room.

The Ethan Allen dresser that meant so much to his wife, it was sold, too.

When 80-year-old Gloria Fissell died last year, her husband, David, began selling furniture. His plan was to move away from the memories, the three-bedroom house that enveloped him in loneliness.

Even though the 50-year-old brick ranch on the corner lot is paid for, taxes and upkeep are burdens he wants to unload.

“I’m hanging on to it by sheer whatever,” David Fissell said.

At 77, he knows life can turn quickly. Two and a half years after Gloria fell and broke her shoulder, she was gone, unable to rebound from a string of health issues and stays in nursing homes.

“I don’t know how long I’m going to live,” he said, sitting in his brown leather recliner in the living room. The chair is positioned so he can see out the front door and watch a small TV against the far wall.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports (https://bit.ly/1HgensP ) that for now, a friend has persuaded him to stay put.

But if Fissell continues to fulfill his wife’s dying wish, a For Sale sign could be planted in the yard sooner than later.

Gloria Fissell spent her last few years in and out of nursing homes, and noticed that many of the residents seldom, if ever, got visitors. She would hear from other residents about how lucky she was to have a husband spending 10 hours every day with her as she languished, a stroke and other ailments getting the upper hand.

Seven weeks before she died, on July 26, 2014, Gloria asked her husband: “What are you going to do after I die? Why don’t you keep visiting nursing homes and help out the best you can?”

He didn’t want to think about a life after Gloria, but he wanted to assure her he would abide by her wish.

“With a hug and a kiss we sealed the deal.”

Gloria had told him about the $1,000 she had stashed in the dresser. Use that to begin helping others, she said.

“I knew she had it, but I didn’t know where,” he said with a smile that crosses his face when he talks about the woman he was married to for 33 years.

For the first three months after Gloria died, Fissell didn’t do much. Then a friend called.

“I was grieving pretty hard and happened to mention what Gloria had asked me to do,” Fissell said. “He said: ‘Why the hell don’t you get off your behind and do something about it?’”

He reached out to several nursing homes, sharing the deal he made with his wife. Two St. Charles centers agreed to let Fissell begin volunteering. Three days a week he heads to Frontier Health and Rehabilitation. On alternate days, he is a regular at Mount Carmel Senior Living, one of the nursing homes where Gloria stayed after her fall.

Fissell called an attorney and a CPA about setting up a foundation, which he did. He began soliciting donations, taking in about $1,000. His daughter, Cindi, said he needed to extend his reach. She found someone to set up a website.

But with no one marketing his cause, the site is not getting much traffic. Donations are few and far between. Selling off the furniture has filled the gaps.

Fissell tries not to go to the nursing homes empty-handed. But he realized the little things he bought for the residents at both nursing homes quickly added up. Soon, his wife’s $1,000 was gone. So was $1,200 of his own money. A year into his efforts, the foundation bank account, which never grew much higher than $1,000, has about $100 remaining.

So the treats he takes often are bought out of pocket. Birthday cards. Mother’s Day candy. Rolls of quarters to reward bingo winners - 25 cents for a regular game and 50 cents for a “coverall.” On occasion, he will bring cigarettes. They are a bad habit but bring joy, he said.

He should know. Fissell had not smoked for years. Then Gloria died.

“That’s when I picked it up again,” he said.

In his kitchen, Fissell carefully stacked bananas he cut from bunches on a folding table that replaced the dining set he sold. Putting the bananas in a clear plastic bag, prepackaged brownies in another, he climbed into his 12-year-old Saturn Vue for the seven-minute drive to Frontier.

“David!” a woman shouted from across the lobby.

“I prayed you’d come back,” another woman said.

He quickly noticed some of the regulars were gone. A bus had picked them up for a picnic.

“Won’t be much of a bingo game today,” Fissell said to another volunteer, Sylvia Clark, whose husband died at Frontier this year.

He walked down each hallway, popping his head into most rooms to offer a banana, brownie or word of encouragement.

“This is the lady that’s supposed to be getting the hell out of here,” Fissell said, nodding to a woman balled up under a blanket. Her name is Elizabeth. Health issues landed her here and government red tape is delaying her departure, she explained.

“If you need anything, you’ve got my number,” Fissell said.

“I do,” she said, adding as he turned to leave: “You’re my best friend.”

It caught Fissell. His eyes grew wet.

When Elizabeth does get out, Fissell has promised her his couch. It’s a sleeper sofa. It will leave a big void in his living room, but the woman in the nursing home needs it more than he does.

Ken Klump, administrator for Frontier Health and Rehabilitation, said seldom does such devotion walk through the nursing home doors. So true, added Chris Brown, Mount Carmel’s executive director.

“We have a lot of people start gung-ho and peter out quickly,” Brown said. “The idea of making relationships with the elderly is not for everyone. They can’t handle it emotionally. Dave has jumped right in and definitely been a mainstay. He has the heart to do this.”

Fissell said his wife didn’t want him to be lonely. Asking him to help those in nursing homes after she was gone was just as much for him as it was for the residents, he realizes now.

“She figured that I would enjoy doing it, and it would pass my time away. And I think that’s one reason she made me make that promise.”

On top of the entertainment center is a wood cutout of his wife’s name: “Glo.” That’s what he called her. They met while living in the same apartment complex in 1978. It was a Friday night. She was coming home as he was heading out to have drinks with the guys. They exchanged hellos and smiles.

“Would you like to go out for a beer?” he said. She hesitated, then said, “Sounds good.”

They went to the old Western Lounge on West Clay Street. The band was playing familiar songs from the 1950s and ‘60s.

“We danced up a storm,” Fissell said.

Four years later, they married. There was no real rush. Both had been down the aisle before. Glo would become his fourth wife. Her marriage to Fissell, in Hot Springs, Ark., would be her third.

“We finally got it right,” he said. “We became soulmates.”

Both had children from previous marriages. Over the years, they became grandparents, then great-grandparents. Families fused while growing apart. Fissell lost one son to drugs, another to suicide. Hurt is nothing new.

But losing Glo remains fresh.

She became the office manager of his auto upholstery business, which he sold in 1998, a year after they bought the house on Elmhurst Drive. It was a corner lot without much of a backyard. They were torn on whether to move the washer and dryer hookups from the basement to the main floor to eliminate navigating stairs. Ultimately, they decided doing so was more important than any resale value lost from converting a bedroom into the laundry.

But as Fissell sits in his recliner, he rethinks that decision. If the house goes on the market, can it be considered a three-bedroom? And if he stays, what happens if the roof needs repair or the air conditioning goes out?

He thinks about these things with his extra time. He thinks about whether he is going to sell the house, move into senior-living apartments and free up some cash to keep his foundation going.

Fissell said his faith has been tested through life. But it was renewed on July 26.

“Exactly one year after she died, she came to me as a spirit in my sleep. I reached for her, cried for her. ‘You’re back! You’re back!’ The spirit kind of smiled and went away.” It was his wife saying a final goodbye, he said.

He and Glo were to grow even older together. But life changed course. This is his direction now.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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