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OhioHealth nurse talks final wishes, love story of Dick and Shirley Meek

When Nicholas Sparks created Noah and Allie Calhoun he created the benchmark for all husbands and wives. Mariah Sowers, though, has an interesting argument.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Few love stories could rival the characters penned to paperback in 1996. When Nicholas Sparks created Noah and Allie Calhoun in "The Notebook" he created the benchmark for all husbands and wives. None, arguably, come close.

Mariah Sowers has an interesting argument. One that is seemingly ripped from the same pages of that same notebook.

“If I were to summarize what it’s like to be a COVID nurse: exhausting,” Sowers said. “To be honest.”

Sowers is a registered nurse at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital.

When the pandemic started she says her unit was the first to take COVID-19 patients.

The first three months her unit dealt with nothing else. They learned as the world learned about the virus. There were many questions, like what to do, how to do it, what was safe and what was changing.

One thing that was never in question: common decency.

“I think the biggest impression I got from that family was love,” she said.

Dick and Shirley Meek had just celebrated 70 years of marriage in December when they found out they both had COVID. A rapid decline in health caused a rapid increase in end of life care.

Sowers stayed in contact with the Meeks’ five children.

“How much their family loved them…that was one of the major things that touched me about these two patients,” she said.

The couple’s children had a request, to have their parents be together when the time came for final goodbyes.

“Yeah, it was quite a process,” Sowers said.

They had to coordinate with its sister Intensive Care Unit. They had to gain permission to laterally move Dick who was one floor above his wife. There had to be test trials with putting the two patients in the same room and making sure their equipment and ventilators could run properly. On top of that, the unit had to get legal permission due to HIPAA laws restricting two patients being in the same room.

The family had also requested something else.

“I made it my mission to have this playlist playing for them while they passed so they left the world honoring their life that they lived,” Sowers said.

The Meeks’ children told Sowers a John Denver song, “When the River Meets the Sea,” was Dick’s favorite. Sowers found it. Then, Sowers did a little more.

“And I got to thinking if music was such an impact on these two individuals’ lives, I’m sure there were many songs that were memorable to them,” she said.

Sowers created a Spotify playlist almost an hour-and-a-half-long filled with songs and artists that Dick and Shirley enjoyed like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Michael Buble.

“I knew that the last thing they were going to hear was going to be that music,” Sowers said.

On Jan. 16, Dick was brought downstairs. Beds side-by-side, Sowers placed his hand in his bride’s and her head on his chest. A phone was held up to each of their ears so their children could say goodbye.

And, then, it was time.

Just like Allie Calhoun, Shirley died listening to Billie Holiday’s “I’ll be Seeing You.”

“It was almost like you can’t write stories like this,” Sowers said. “Because she passed away to the song that was playing at the end of the Notebook.”

Nineteen minutes later, listening to Cash’s “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” Dick followed his wife. Sowers says he was a gentleman until the end by letting his wife go first. Sowers whispered in his ear it was OK to let go and that Shirley was waiting.

“This is not my first patients’ hands that I’ve held as they passed, but this time it felt like an honor,” she said.

She did what she did not for attention, but common decency and humanity.

“This is exactly how we want our patients to go out of the world,” Sowers said. “In the arms of the people that they love.”

Noah and Allie Calhoun might have been the best love story on paper. Sowers, though, is making the argument that Dick and Shirley Meek might very well be the best love story of all time.

The children of Dick and Shirley Meek declined to comment for this story, saying they wanted the focus to be on Sowers and the staff at Riverside for their exceptional care of their parents.

The family released this statement to 10TV, expressing their gratitude for Sowers:

“There aren’t words to express our deep gratitude for everything that you and the staff at Riverside did for our parents, Dick and Shirley Meek. You truly went above and beyond any expectations that we had, from multiple daily updates, coordinating the communication between ICU’s, accommodating our wishes for our parents to be together, and most importantly, honoring our final wishes with the peaceful playlist and handholding. We were so very blessed that you included us in every part of their passing. We can’t thank you enough for the kindness that you showed our parents and us as you helped usher them into Eternity. Your compassion was evident and it helped our family tremendously through an extremely difficult time. Our parents’ love story deserved the ending that you were instrumental in providing. You gave them the dignity that they deserved while also honoring their love for each other. May you have angels watching over you as you continue your dedication during this ongoing pandemic. We are forever grateful.”

“And that, right there, is the reason why I took care of those patients as well as I did,” Sowers said of the Meeks’ family note.

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