Richard Duren wasn’t interested in learning the Tango or any other particular dance when he met Maxine, his future wife and caregiver, at dancing school in 1959.
Instead he admits to attending the school in hopes of meeting someone special just like Maxine Duren, who agreed to marry him four years later.
“Neither of us was any good at dancing,” Richard said.
“I think that is why we have trouble remembering the date now is because we were such bad dancers we are trying to forget it,” Maxine said.
Maxine and Richard were both living in North Hollywood, Calif., at the time. Maxine had moved there from Arkansas to be close to her sister. Richard, originally from Tuscaloosa, Ala., was working for Lockheed Missile and Space Co. – now Lockheed Martin – after serving in the Army Air Corps for four years during World War II. Richard worked in personnel and was stationed in England during the war.
After they were married, the couple remained in California, but would come home to Tuscaloosa to visit family and friends. It was during one visit in 1999 that Richard suffered a stroke. Once he got well enough, the couple went back to their home in California.
“I still remember the day he had the first stroke,” Maxine said. “It was May 25, and I will never forget it.”
Once they returned to California, Richard’s condition improved for some time and then afterwards began to worsen. Maxine said that doctors in Alabama and California told them that if they had ever planned to move back to Alabama, that they needed to go ahead and do so before Richard’s condition grew more severe.
The couple moved back to Alabama and shortly afterwards Richard began having mini-strokes. In 2005 Richard’s condition grew worse and loss of memory became a severe problem. That is when Maxine sought help from the Home-Based Primary Care team at Tuscaloosa VA.
“The doctors and nurses came and provided unbelievable care,” Maxine said. “They were wonderful, and actually helped care for me as well.”
Maxine continued to serve as a caregiver for Richard in their home until August 2010, at which time her own bout with Rheumatoid Arthritis made it no longer possible. That is when Lawanda Vanhorn, caregiver support coordinator and social worker at Tuscaloosa VA, worked with Maxine to get Richard placed at the Community Living Center at the medical center. Maxine said at first Richard was approved for care in a community facility, but she felt it important for him to be around other Veterans. Vanhorn worked with the couple to make it happen.
“Caregiving is such a challenge and I don’t think people understand what all goes into it,” Vanhorn said. “As part of National Caregivers Month, we at the VA want to highlight caregivers like Maxine because their heroic work oftentimes goes unnoticed.”
Maxine had much praise for the staff at the community living center and said both her and Richard were excited about the new construction. A new wing is being constructed and the existing space completely remodeled. The end result will give each resident their own private bedroom and bathroom and create a setting as close to home as possible.
Speaking of home, Maxine also pointed out the pleasure it brings Richard to have “Star” close by. Star is the companion dog that resides at the community living center.
“We see Star all the time and she is the sweetest thing,” Maxine said. “Star makes Richard feel at home and reminds him of his own dog from home named Queen. Her name was Queen, but she answered to ‘Precious.’”
While Maxine doesn’t drive now, she still has a girlfriend who brings her to visit Richard whenever she wants and also helps her with other needs.
Events are underway this month at VA medical centers across the country as a way to honor caregivers such as Maxine, for making life better for Veterans and other Americans. For more information about Caregivers Month, you can visit www.caregiver.va.gov.