When George Bartling was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia, he did all the expected treatments and for a decade, it stayed in remission. Then it came back “with a vengeance,” said his wife, Linnéa Bartling.
“We tried a different chemo,” she recalled. But his body rebelled, his legs swelling as his kidneys began failing. Treating the kidney issue affected his heart, “and vice versa,” Linnéa said.
In October of 2019, he went to the hospital because of his symptoms, and the staff there told Linnéa that George probably had two days to live and that he should be enrolled in hospice. So, the family called in Stillwater Hospice (then called Visiting Nurse) and “everybody got busy,” Linnéa said, bringing in a hospital bed and other services that took over some of the burdens of caregiving. Linnéa, a potter and pastor, knew of Stillwater Hospice from those she ministered to during her tenures at First Presbyterian Church and First Christian Church in Fort Wayne.
“I was impressed with what I saw of our hospice caregivers. Also being a pastor helped. I have served nine churches in the northeastern part of Indiana and have seen hard deaths and hard grieving.”
George received additional therapies including physical therapy to relieve swelling, and visits from social workers who helped with coming to terms with his ill health. “We began to plan for him not to be around,” she said. “I was his main caregiver, and we had a wonderful aide who came in to help.”
Precious time with family
But George wasn’t ready to leave. The “two days” became a week, and then a month. Thanksgiving came and went, the family gathering around the table which was covered with a runner specially made for the table that all the family members signed. And still George lived, a hospital bed set up in the den of the couple’s renovated schoolhouse home in Fort Wayne. Then Christmas came and went, and New Year’s and Valentine’s Day and Easter and George was still at home.
As spring emerged, George was still able to have meaningful moments with family and friends. The family took advantage of Stillwater’s Hospice Home respite care program, and George stayed at Hospice Home for five days so that Linnéa could get a break from 24-hour caregiving.
“I had five good nights of sleep,” Linnéa said. Respite care at Hospice Home gives family caregivers a break from the strains of day-to-day caregiving by providing 24-hour care for the patient in one of our 14 private rooms.
Mother’s Day passed, and on June 18th, George and Linnéa celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. He died just a few weeks later, in early July 2020.
“I think he stayed around for that,” Linnéa said. “We just didn’t get our birthdays” together.
Since George’s passing, Linnéa said she has continued to support – and be supported by – Stillwater Hospice.
“George and I have supported agencies that we believe are well run and provide essential services to the community. We experienced hospice as recipients of its caring and thoughtful services…”
“…For example, the social worker asked George whether it was his brain telling him he could get better or his body telling him he could. She asked him which it was, and
he didn’t answer. That was when he knew he wasn’t going to make any miraculous recovery.”
A lifetime of love
George and Linnéa met in high school when he was a senior and she was a sophomore, working together on the school newspaper. They didn’t date in high school, but both went to Cornell University and George would carry Linnéa’s luggage back to their respective homes in Yonkers, New York.
“He just kept doing that,” Linnéa remembered with a smile. “I graduated on Monday the 13th and got married on Saturday the 18th. We went to Bermuda on our honeymoon.”
The Bartlings moved to northeast Indiana when George took a job at General Electric and raised their family, consisting of son, Carl and daughter, Lisa. The couple threw themselves into the community. George, who worked in finance at General Electric, served as a volunteer for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Fort Wayne Youtheater, Passages of Columbia City, Crossroad Child and Family Services, and as a board member at Peace United Church of Christ. He ran the Fort Wayne Table Tennis Club and competed in many table tennis competitions in the area.
In the 1990s, long before George’s illness, the couple went looking for a house to renovate. “I always wanted to rehab something,” Linnéa said. They found a renovated 1903 brick schoolhouse that had previously been used as a home for a family with seven children, who all lived on the ground floor. With careful work, they were able to add a second floor to the structure and now, Linnéa shares the home with her part-Jack Russell, part-beagle dog Simon and her grandson. On one wall is a quilt Linnéa made with doilies and shawls passed down from her great-grandmother. It takes pride of place in the dining room, fronted by a table of family photos, including one of George, smiling out at Linnéa when she walks by.