Alive again: How volunteering made life worth living once more



Dave Huyard explains the typical Shenandoah Valley homestead on the mural titled “Yesterday” he created on an entire wall of the break room for the Emergency Room nurses’ lounge at Sentara/RMH. photos by Melodie Davis

We had been married for 56 years; we always felt our marriage was made in heaven, and then our love relationship solidified while serving on the mission field.
But in 2009, we were informed my wife’s health problems were terminal. After being told that by the doctor, we went home and did not talk about it. We were in denial but also hoped and prayed healing would happen.

One day I finally asked Anna Mary the following question: “If it’s true what the doctors say, what shall I do should you indeed leave me?” She looked at me for a long time and finally said, ‘You’ll know when the time comes.”

Anna Mary had been admitted to Sentara Rockingham Memorial Hospital eight times during the two years after the diagnosis. The service we both received during her stays and my visit to RMH was extended with the greatest care, love and compassion.

My wife slipped into a coma but as a pastor and counselor for many years, I know that persons in a coma can hear and understand their loved ones. I knew she was nearing the end. I stayed with her all night to be with her and so she wouldn’t be alone. On the morning of March 8, 2012 I decided to take charge and give her ‘permission’ to leave me. She was suffering, so even though I hated to do it, I took her hands in mine and looked her in the face and said “Anna Mary, it’s ok for you to go now. Go and see our baby. Go see your mother and father. It’s ok. Go home to Jesus.”

Anna Mary took two more breaths and then she was gone. As I held the hand of the love of my life, she quietly slipped into eternity, and there in that hospital room at that moment, something inside of me also died. Love always reaches its highest pinnacle when two individuals experience true love in marriage. When this love becomes severed, our better self is ripped out of us and our life changes forever. Our pain is deep and the loss is great. Even though recovery is a process, as survivors we will work through the pain of our situation but we will never fully get over it.

Together we had served the Lord in the mission field and later at our food service in the Dayton Farmer’s Market. For those 12 years we learned to know so many wonderful people here in the Shenandoah Valley. After we terminated Huyard’s Country Kitchen, I continued my interest in art and handcrafting violins. We always did everything together and together made a total of 62 violins.

I was Anna Mary’s primary caregiver during the last two years of her life, and now it has been three years that she is gone. This means that for the past five years, I became inactive concerning my interest in art and violin-building and had no plans to continue.

Something changed within my spirit and I felt myself becoming alive again.

One day last fall, I was having a really bad day and decided to revisit the room at RMH where I had said my final goodbye. Since the room was not occupied, I spent some time just remembering the last time I had been in it and then the thought hit me. I could serve as a volunteer at the hospital and perhaps through this avenue I could find healing, and closure could happen. Surely there must be other people here who also are hurting; perhaps I could bring encouragement into their lives.

Jill Young, head nurse for the Sentara/RMH emergency room and Jane Miller point to pieces of clothing they painted for the old clothesline on the “Yesterday” mural. The painting offers workers a scenic change of pace from the often frenetic and traumatic emergency room atmosphere.

After serving as a volunteer two days each week for nearly six months both in the Emergency Department and the Critical Unit, the head nurse, Jill Young asked if I would be interested in painting a wall mural in the nurses’ lounge off the ER to create a more relaxing and de-stressed atmosphere, more like “home.” Jill had heard from another nurse that I was an artist. I obliged. It was during this time that something changed within my spirit and I felt myself becoming alive again. I enlisted help from the nurses as they visited the lounge, to help paint flowers or add towels or shirts or pants hanging from the clothes line in the mural behind the old farmhouse.

So was it interaction with patients as a volunteer? Was it affirmation from the hospital staff as we worked? Or maybe it was the words from a nurse who said to me, “Thanks, Dave, for becoming a part of the RMH family.”

I believe it was a combination of the total RMH experience. Something inside my spirit came alive, and for the first time in three years, I felt like myself again. I knew healing was happening and I realized in a very real way, as Anna Mary had said, “You’ll know when the time comes.”

After completing the mural, I decided to make another violin. But this time I would not be using traditional and expensive exotic wood. I decided to use wood from my scrap heap: discarded material, making a statement that by God’s grace and the encouragement of others, we can always experience new beginnings.

Huyard is also a violin maker, having crafted over 62 violins over the years with the help of his beloved wife, Anna Mary. He named this violin “Restored,” because it was the first violin he finished since Anna Mary’s illness and death.

It usually takes me at least six weeks to meticulously handcraft a violin; there is nothing more gratifying than to take a rough piece of wood and create an instrument that makes beautiful music. I made this one in four weeks and realize it will no doubt almost remain to be admired as a wall hanger; I was amazed though by the tonal quality. I titled the violin “Restored.” It was my first finished violin in five years.

I will always be indebted to Amy, Jill, and Jane in the Emergency Room Department, and to Deb and Sherry in the Volunteer Services Department. Thank you for bringing me back to life again.

What am I going to do with the violin? Probably give it away. When the time comes.

Dave Huyard is a longtime resident of the Shenandoah Valley and was the chef and owner of the former Huyard’s Country Kitchen at Dayton Farmer’s Market. He is a retired pastor, artist, and violin maker.


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