‘For Better or Worse,’ 2016 Caregiver of the Year takes wedding vows to heart

POSTED: April 21, 2016

When Gayle Towles said his wedding vows, “for better or worse and in sickness and in health,” he meant every word. He just had no idea it would mean becoming a caregiver for not only his first wife, but his second wife, too.

Towles retired early in 1989 as a teacher and head basketball coach at Ben Davis High school to take care of his high school sweetheart and wife, Donna, who was fighting colon cancer. He never left her side, taking her to appointments, giving her herbal treatments, and keeping her comfortable. Cancer took her life in 1996. They had been married 42 years.

“When she died, I felt like I died, too,” he said.

On a church trip four years later, he met Kitty. They hit it off, and she agreed to go with him on a date. Not long after, they were married. Towles promised her four children that he would take care of their mother and make her happy. And, he meant it.

About five years later, Kitty was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Again, Towles took on the role of full-time caregiver. Just like when he was caring for Donna, he never complained. He took Kitty to her doctor’s appointments, to the hair salon and to church every Sunday.

Even after the disease progressed so that she no longer could feed or dress herself or even speak, Towles was determined to take care of her. When they went out to dinner, and people saw him caringly feeding his wife, strangers would walk over to their table and comment about how they were examples of true love. Some people even bought their dinners.

“There are not enough words to describe my dad as a caregiver,” his daughter, Kelli, wrote when nominating him for the Caregiver of the Year Award. “He is a true role model for his family and all of those that have come in contact with him.”

The nomination came as a surprise to Towles. He said he’s not the one who deserves the award, but that Donna and Kitty both deserve to be recognized for how they fought and lived with horrible diseases. Kitty died on Jan. 16. They had been married 15 years.

“I used to think the Lord put me here on earth to coach and teach, but I think he had a second thing in mind, and that was for me to be a caregiver,” Towles said.

There were plenty of challenges along the way. He was patient, though, knowing when Kitty got upset, it was her disease, not his wife. Every day—sometimes 25 times—he’d tell her how much he loved her, even when she no longer knew who he was.

“He is the epitome of a caregiver and most certainly was placed on this earth to show others what it truly means to love,” Kelli said of her dad, CICOA’S 2016 Caregiver of the Year.

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