Pandemic forces separation but couple’s love endures

Kathie and Darell “Bud” Weathermon will celebrate their 56th wedding anniversary later this month but they won’t be able to hug, hold hands or share a kiss.

Kathie, 75, plans to make the one hour and 15 minute drive from Walla Walla to Kennewick to visit her husband on their special day. It’s a trip she makes about twice a week.

Bud lives at WindSong at Southridge in Kennewick, an assisted living senior community catering to residents who need care because of memory loss. Kathie and her two adult children decided to move Bud, 77, into WindSong in early July. They say it was the right move for their family.

And, most importantly, for Bud.

“It was really the only decision we could make for Bud’s safety. But it still is hard,” Kathie said.

She cared for him as long as she could, but his memory and personality began to change too much, and she could no longer keep him safe in the Walla Walla home they shared for 18 years.

“You always question your decisions, but once Bud got to WindSong I haven’t questioned the care he’s gotten or where he’s been. It’s been a godsend,” she said.

State-mandated pandemic restrictions mean a window separates the couple when they visit and they have to use an intercom to talk.

The physical separation is tough.

“They love each other so much. I just can’t wait until they can hug each other in real life again,” said Tiffinni Halka, life enrichment coordinator at WindSong at Southridge.

“There’s lots of tears when they’re separated by a window. They need each other … it’s hard on Bud and it’s hard on Kathie to not be able to hug and touch each other. I cannot wait to end all of this so they can be together again.”

It’s clear their love for one another remains strong, Halka said. “He dotes on her. When we say, ‘Oh Bud, your beautiful bride is here,’ he starts walking to the window. He calls her name because he knows she’s coming. Whenever you say her name, there’s joy on his face,” she said.

A lifetime of love

Kathie Weathermon

Bud Weathermon

Kathie met Bud 60 years ago, when she was 15 years old in Walla Walla. He was working on a family friend’s hay crew, and she wound up cooking dinner for them, though she admits not being much of a cook at the time.

“We realized we went to the same high school, and when school started in the fall, he asked me out. It was my first date,” she said.

They stayed together on and off through high school. He went into the service; she went to business school. They got engaged and were married in St. Patrick’s Parish on Feb. 27, 1965. After a honeymoon in Reno, they returned to their Walla Walla hometown and got back to work.

Bud was a mechanic for a dealership; Kathie worked for a finance company.

“We started with an apartment. We started saving money. It wasn’t long before we could buy our own refrigerator and eventually a down payment on a house,” she said.

Their two kids came later, and so did a ranch.

“We never owed so much money in our lives, but we did it,” Kathie laughed. “We were on the ranch for about 20 years.”

Those were fun times, she recalled. “We had great neighbors, we were running cows and had a shop and we were busy, busy,” she said.

Secret to a happy marriage

Kathie said there’s no real secret to staying happily married, but she offered two pieces of advice: be happy with yourself first, as no one else can make you happy, and respect and manage expectations.

“One of the things I love about Bud is he was able to accept me as I am. It wasn’t that long ago that I said something to him about how I looked and how he put up with me and the weight gain and all of that. He said to me, ‘That’s all part of you.’ That was so sweet,” she said.

A marriage can be filled with stressors of all kinds – money, in-laws, kids – but working to find the common ground helps, Kathie said.

“I think people who expect it all to be good are really setting themselves up for failure. It isn’t all easy. Anybody tells you they have been married for 55 years and every one of them was a blessing is probably really fortunate to have forgotten there were hard times,” she said.

“Sometimes I feel sorry for people who expect all of it to be good because that’s not life. When you look at the whole picture, you have to really enjoy the good times.”

Bud’s new home

Kathie struggled with guilt about moving Bud into a memory care facility. She relayed a story about how she was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle after a bad motorcycle accident 17 years ago.

“They wanted to send me to rehab but Bud said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘I’m taking care of her. We’ll get a hospital bed. I’m taking her home.’ ” And he did.

She thought about this period a lot when she began to realize she could no longer care for Bud at home.

But, she admits, it’s a different situation.

“I was really fortunate the kids and I were all on the same page. Bud was our primary concern. The kids were concerned about me too. It’s harder on the kids. They had two old folks to worry about,” she said.

WindSong fits Bud’s personality. It offers a Montessori-inspired program in which residents determine their own activities, with options focusing on the things they like and want to do.

“Bud has worked hard all his life. He’s done a good job of taking care of his family. He has all these interests. He’s ridden motorcycles to Alaska two or three times. He has flown his own airplane. We ran an automobile and truck repair shop. We bought a little farm and raised Red Angus cattle. He’s had varied interests,” Kathie said.

But sitting around the house wasn’t one of them.

“Bud is somebody who has always been really, really busy. He doesn’t sit down for a football game or read for more than a half hour or go to the gym either. His work and his mind have to be productive. At WindSong, if Bud has a bad night, he’s not wandering around. He likes to clean. He has a room, and he cleans and washes tables,” she said.

He also likes to use an orbital sander on furniture and to work on an alternator. He knows what to do too once those items are in his hands. He dons his safety goggles and gets to work, Halka said.

“We let them continue being who they are. He wants to work on an engine part at 2 a.m. because that’s what he did his whole life, then that’s what we make happen for him,” Halka said.

Kathie appreciates this approach. “They’re not trying to fit him into a round hole, they’re letting him be him. They don’t put him in his room and make him do puzzles. That’s not Bud – no matter what frame of mind he is in. They are able to make the care he gets fit what he needs, instead of doing care and making him fit whatever project they’ve got going on,” she said.

Covid-19

The pandemic has affected Kathie’s ability to be with her husband, but she’s patiently waiting. Bud received his second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine on Jan. 22. When she’s able to get hers, she said she will.

Until then, Kathie’s schedule includes twice-a-week visits to see Bud in Kennewick. She lifts weights at the local YWCA and works out with a personal trainer. She spends time with friends and family. The couple have two teenage grandchildren.

Though apart, she’s constantly thinking about Bud.

When their wedding anniversary arrives at the end of February, she’ll be by her husband – just outside his Kennewick window.

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