1/9/2020 3:28:00 PM To have and to hold ... in sickness and in health
After 42 years of marriage, Oak Ridge residents Danny and Linda Yanusz face their biggest challenge yet with humor, creativity and determination
Photo courtesy of Danny Yanusz | Danny (left) and Linda Yanusz enjoyed a family vacation at the beach this past summer with their two adult daughters and spouses, and their grandson.
by ANNETTE JOYCE
"...To have and to hold, from this day forward. For better, for worse. For richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health. To love and to cherish... till death do us part."
Danny and Linda Yanusz made that traditional marriage pledge to one another 42 years ago. At the time they had no way of knowing just how much those wedding vows would be put to the test and how their love story would unfold.
Originally from Long Island, New York, Danny, now 65, and Linda, 67, met at a wedding where they were seated at the same table. Perpetually outgoing, Danny struck up a conversation with Linda and unknowingly made her fiancé so jealous that the couple had a "screaming match" in the parking lot and ended their relationship.
The next night Danny ran into Linda again at a disco club. Back then, Danny was so enthralled with disco dancing that he hit the clubs every night. That evening he saw Linda sitting at the bar "dressed to kill."
He likes to joke that Linda picked him up in a bar, but it's clear that Danny was smitten.
"That was the second prettiest you've ever looked," Danny said to Linda as they recently sat in their living room while sharing their story. "The prettiest, of course, was on our wedding day."
Ten years after they married, the couple and their two young girls moved to Oak Ridge. They immediately got involved in the community and brought creativity, passion and caring to everything they did.
Danny volunteered in various capacities with the Town, including serving four years on Oak Ridge Town Council. Together, he and Linda joined Oak Ridge Lions Club, volunteered for school and community events and became familiar faces around town. Their love of Swiss mountain dogs was (and still is) well-known, and they were always venturing to different locations to compete in dog events.
They did all this while working full-time in challenging jobs that they both thoroughly enjoyed. Danny worked in the lighting industry, specializing in large design projects. Linda was the office manager for a financial advisor, which grew from three employees to 16 during her 26-year tenure.
Life was good ... until the unexpected happened.
Sometime in 2015, Linda started having tremors in her right hand. For a while she hid the tremors by always keeping something in her hand or sticking her hand in her pocket. But when she started making obvious mistakes at work, Linda's employer was so concerned he contacted Danny.
By the summer of 2016, Linda was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and later with Lewy body dementia. Both conditions are chronic and progressive and adversely affect a person's physical and mental capabilities. There is no cure for either condition and the symptoms and progression are different for every individual.
The couple took this life-altering news as they have everything else in their lives - with determination, creativity and humor.
Because of the effects of the disease, Linda had to retire.
"(That was) the hardest thing to accept," she said. "I understand why I couldn't work anymore, (but) work was really important to me."
She also had to give up driving.
"I miss driving," she said. "It's like part of my life is gone. I loved driving - but it wasn't safe anymore."
Within months of her diagnosis, Danny also retired so that he could care for Linda full-time and take over daily household tasks as Linda lost the ability to handle them.
"She can't do the microwave, the computer or the phone anymore," he said. "I'm her shadow throughout the day."
He's also taken on the role of becoming Linda's coach and cheerleader - which includes coming up with ways to keep her mentally and physically challenged.
"We have to keep her brain engaged as much as possible and we do this through physical activity, which keeps the blood going to the brain," he said.
Because of this, the Yanuszes' weekly schedule is quite regimented. On Mondays, you'll find the pair at the YMCA for a Parkinson's spin class where about 30 people show up for a 45-minute, high-intensity workout.
'"Miss Linda' really likes this and she's pretty good at it," Danny said.
Tuesdays and Thursdays are devoted to "Rock Steady Boxing," a 90-minute class designed specifically for Parkinson's patients.
"Everybody has a boxer name. She's 'Boom-Boom Linda.' She's done over 100 classes," Danny said as he proudly pointed to Linda.
Linda's not as impressed by the number of classes she's done as she is with how the classes make her feel.
"I like goofing off and playing with the people," she said.
Every other Friday, the two go to Parkinson's yoga and do the class together.
Since every caregiver needs to also be mindful of taking care of themselves, Danny does a 90-minute routine with a personal trainer on Wednesdays. He goes to the same gym where Linda boxes so she's comfortable going along with him.
"It gives me a chance to blow off steam," Danny said. "Linda comes to watch me and patiently waits for me. Sometimes she struggles with it, but all the staff know her and watch out for her."
Along with the physical activities, there are also mental tasks that Danny gives Linda to help keep her mind sharp. For instance, he'll give her pennies and ask her to sort them by date, count them or put them in groups of 10. '"Miss Linda' doesn't like mental activities as much as physical activities," he chuckled.
In many cases, people in this situation would find themselves extremely isolated; however, the Yanuszes have fought hard to maintain their connection to community and friends. One group they're particularly thankful for is the Lions Club.
"Thank goodness for the Lions Club members," said Danny, who has been president of the organization for the past few years. "They look out for Linda. All of the ladies really keep an eye on her."
While they try to look for the positive in their situation, Danny freely admits that life isn't all sunny and he and Linda have their moments of frustration and anger. There are times when Linda doesn't recognize Danny. At other times he's found things in odd places - such as a shoe in the refrigerator. And there are times when Linda so badly wants to be able do something she can no longer do.
"She was always very organized, very disciplined," Danny said. "I've had to change my expectations of what she can execute and of course, Linda has her frustrations with me and her circumstances."
They've also had to become accustomed to the attention the disease draws when they're in public. Parkinson's causes a lot of jerky, uncontrolled movements which often lead to lots of stares - and sometimes accidents. For example, Danny mentioned an incident that happened at a local craft fair this past fall, when Linda knocked over a display.
Feeling everyone's eyes on her, Linda became upset. Fortunately, the owner was very understanding and forgiving, and another vendor came over to help make everything right.
"Linda and I are at a point in our lives where we're dealing with what we're dealing with," Danny said. "You just have to get through it, and that's what we're doing."
At that point, Linda leans over and pats Danny on the stomach.
"See," he grinned. "I got a pat from my honey."
"I don't know how to say it, but I want to thank him for everything," Linda said. "A lot of people don't understand how much the (spouse) is involved. He's been very patient with me. A lot of men wouldn't do what he's done."
"Our life is not going to get better," Danny concluded. "But we can go down fighting."