Nate and Millie Smith met in November of 1953. They passed away, days apart, in November of 2014. Rainbow Hospice and Palliative Care had the honor of caring for both Nate and Millie for their last days.
Together for 61 years, Nate and Millie raised their four daughters, Marla, Rhona, Karen and Andrea, in a 3 bedroom apartment in Rogers Park. Happily, they watched their family grow to ten grandkids and four great grandchildren. Love for this wonderful couple still radiates through each member of this tight-knit family.
As their father approached the later stages of dementia and their mother struggled with ALS and Lymphoma, their four daughters had a difficult time finding a care setting that would allow their parents to live together.
Prior to being at Rainbow, Millie and Nate were in the same nursing home, but in different rooms. Karen, recalling her mother’s fear of death, tells a story of her father comforting his wife during a visit. “Don’t worry, honey,” he reassured her in a rare moment of clarity, “we’re going to go together.” Karen remembers it as another indication of Nate’s unwavering love for Millie, but also feels as though he may have “known what was coming.”
The next day, Nate had a serious fall and his family decided to move him to the Rainbow Hospice Ark inpatient unit. Hoping her parents wouldn’t have to continue living separately, Rhona asked Rainbow to evaluate Millie.
A Rainbow nurse visited Millie and within twenty-four hours, she joined Nate, surrounded by their family, in the same suite at the Ark.
“We told Rainbow what we wanted, and it was done,” Karen recalls. “We didn’t even have to think about it at a time where we already had too much to think about.”
Although it was clearly a difficult time, the entire family was truly comfortable at the Ark. “The Ark staff cared for us just as well as they cared for mom and dad,” Rhona tells us. “We’re a big group – about 20 of us would be there at one time – and they made us all feel at home.”
Nate died a peaceful death surrounded by his family and lying next to his wife. Five days later, with all of her daughters and several of her granddaughters around her, Millie passed away.
Marla and her sisters were struck by the care their parents received even after they died. “Mom and Dad were treated with dignity and compassion the entire time they were in the Ark,” Marla said. “We were able to go home and sleep at night because we knew they would be taken care of.”
After Millie died, Justina, a Rainbow nurse, sang “Amazing Grace” while waiting for staff from the funeral home to arrive. Nate and Millie were each covered in a handmade quilt and a bell was rung as they were escorted out of the building, a tradition for every patient who passes away at the Ark.
The connections the Smith family made at Rainbow stay with them today. They met and embraced several families facing a journey similar to their own – families that hugged each other each time a bell rang, families that will never forget each other. Rabi Yaccov Dvorin, the Rainbow chaplain that visited Nate and Millie at the Ark, presided over both funerals.
Each family member is learning how to move forward in their new reality in their own way, and relying on Rainbow’s counselors for support when they need it. Andrea and Karen sleep with their parents’ quilts every night. Granddaughter Jennifer finds writing about her grandparents therapeutic. She wrote this piece about Nate and Millie shortly after they passed away:
Nate and Millie Smith shared a once-in-a-lifetime love story. Theirs began on a blind date in November 1953. It didn’t take them long to realize that they were meant for each other. My Grandma Millie used to tell us about how this very special story began. While they were out dancing one evening, she said to him, “So, when are we getting married?” Well, on June 6th, 1954, just six months after they met, they were indeed married. I always admired their life together. Papa worked three jobs to make sure their four girls had what they needed. Papa and Grandma were absolutely blessed with more love than most could even imagine.
They loved all of their babies; four children, ten grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Their lives revolved around us. Unfortunately, in November, we had to say goodbye to them, and eighteen hearts broke in two. They met in the month of November and left this world together in November. They never had to know what it was like to live in this world without one another for 61 years. In their last few years, Papa suffered from Alzheimer’s, but he always remembered his family. Grandma suffered from ALS, which took her voice from us. It took more than just her voice—this illness took away her ability to sing lullabies to the babies, and it took away hours of precious talks. She was our best friend. Although I cannot see her anymore, I will still talk to her, forever. Our family will carry Papa and Grandma and their memory in our hearts for the rest of our lives. This amazing family, for as long as we are able, will remember for Papa and speak for Grandma.
The Smith family is doing all they can to give back – raising funds for Alzheimer’s, ALS and the Ark. “We couldn’t be more grateful to Rainbow.” Marla explains. “Not only did they provide comfort to our parents and our entire family; they allowed a couple, together for 61 years, to remain together until the end.”
Nate and Millie were blessed with an enormous amount of love. It is impossible to miss the outpouring of pride in each picture of the couple with their family. There is no doubt that they continue to be proud of their growing family.