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David and Ruth Daumer celebrated their 40th anniversary this year on Jan. 6. They almost didn’t make it: David had a heart attack in 1996 at their older daughter’s 7th birthday party. She and her 1-year-old sister had to say goodbye to their dad in case he didn’t make it home from the hospital.
David and Ruth met when they were children in Hammond, Ind. They lost track of each other during high school but reconnected at a singles event during college. Their first date was a trip to the circus (“a good metaphor for our marriage,” said Ruth). Five months later they were engaged.
In 1980, married for a year, they moved so David could attend Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind. He worked part time, and Ruth worked full time as an ICU nurse at a local hospital, occasionally taking classes toward her next nursing degree. A few years into David’s first pastorate, they wanted children. After two miscarriages and fruitless medical exams, they began to wonder if God wanted them to focus on careers instead of a family.
Later, they had the opportunity to adopt and picked up their first daughter with only 24 hours’ notice. Ruth recalls, “We drove to Sears that morning, walked into the baby department, and said, ‘We’re picking up a baby in an hour: What do we need?’” They eventually adopted a second daughter.
David also became pastor of a church in Orange City, Iowa, in 1989. Things were going well until his sudden heart attack. Ruth knew that “40-year-old men who have heart attacks have very low survival rates.” As a nurse, she was used to having control over her patients, but David felt normal and wanted to resume mowing the lawn, driving, and preaching before Ruth thought it wise.
After he began rehab, Ruth told David she would never leave him home alone with the girls again: “I couldn’t trust that he would be OK. I wanted to be here to protect David and be a first responder.” David remembers feeling frustrated that she treated him “like an invalid.” In time, she learned to trust David not to overexert himself, and he learned to respect her concerns and ask for help when he needed it.
The doctors were not able to pinpoint what caused David’s heart attack. For the next 26 years he took medicine and tried to build healthier habits to prevent future problems. Once again, the couple worked together. They rearranged their schedules to exercise together. They found ways to include their girls, like walking on a track at a local college.
Then the situation switched: About four years ago Ruth started having chronic pain and mobility problems. She was not able to work. Some days she could not even get out of a chair without help. For someone who previously worked 50 hours a week, the new limits were “humiliating.” David worked to support her: He anticipated and did housework instead of waiting for her to ask. He worked on being a good listener instead of a problem solver. He avoided asking, “Are you sure you should be doing that?” He encouraged her to pursue jobs within her abilities.
Ruth says, “He learned from my bad example.”