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Finally at rest

William Gelb outlived Medicare-paid Hospice care and was moved to a nursing home. He died May 11.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001


William Gelb outlived Medicare-paid Hospice care and was moved to a nursing home. He died May 11.

ST. PETERSBURG -- It's been a little over a week since Mary Gelb buried her husband of 22 years. She is both sad and relieved. Sad for her loss and relieved that his suffering is over.

"I miss him," said Mrs. Gelb, 74.

Had it been up to her, William Gelb, who was 78 when he died on May 11, would have spent his last days in the familiar surroundings of their one-bedroom apartment in downtown St. Petersburg. But that was not to be.

After outliving an eight-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week Hospice program that was paid for by Medicare, Mr. Gelb had to be moved to a nursing home in February. Mrs. Gelb had fought the inevitable when Hospice sought to scale back the care her husband was receiving under a program for patients whose life expectancy is six months or less. Earlier this year she told Neighborhood Times she could not afford to provide comparable care and was afraid her husband would die sooner if moved to a nursing home.

Tuesday morning, though, as she sat in her neat living room, now bereft of her husband's hospital bed, Mrs. Gelb had nothing but praise for the staff and volunteers who helped care her husband for almost two years.

"There are no words to express my gratitude," she said.

"I have the problems and I struggle, but the way the people are with me, I give thanks to God because I am not alone," said Mrs. Gelb, who is from Colombia.

The sympathy cards displayed on every available surface, including the television set on which her husband loved to watch news, weather reports and figure skating, were evidence of the support the petite woman has received.

"Sorry for your loss," stated one card. Someone sent a poem. Friends contributed memorial gifts in Mr. Gelb's name to the priests of the Sacred Heart, requesting that he be remembered in daily Masses and prayers.

"The people, I can't believe, they demonstrate to me the loss of William," Mrs. Gelb said. "I didn't expect that."

Mr. Gelb, a Holocaust survivor, had Parkinson's disease, a progressive disorder of the central nervous system that caused his hands to shake. The disease also had robbed him of his ability to walk. He had respiratory difficulties and other health complications for which he needed constant care.

Mrs. Gelb said her husband, whom she met at a party when both lived in New York, had been ill for most of their almost 23 years of marriage.

"I think, three to four years ago, it got very hard. And the last 21/2 years, oh, my God. And he suffered. Really, he was, you have the word in English, a martyr."

Meticulous about the details of her husband's illness, she gave a chronology of the last few months. On Feb. 19, when his eight-hour-a-day Hospice care ended, he was moved to Menorah Manor.

"He was so accepting of the move," she said.

"He accepted, because there was no other way."

Mr. Gelb's condition continued to deteriorate and on March 1 he was admitted to Edward White Hospital for emergency surgery. He was moved to Vencor Hospital-St. Petersburg two weeks later and at the end of the month was returned to Menorah Manor.

Mrs. Gelb said that her husband, a former fashion designer, remained mentally alert to the end. His Jewish funeral service at Chapel Hill Memorial Park in Largo was officiated by Rabbi Arthur Baseman of Temple B'nai Israel in Clearwater. Rabbi Mitchell Smith of Menorah Manor gave the eulogy.

"Never I go to a Jewish funeral. It was so beautiful," said Mrs. Gelb, who is Roman Catholic.

Hospice employees also were at the funeral.

"One of the nurses, he played the guitar and sang for him, Sunrise, Sunset, because William liked that song," Mrs. Gelb said.

Today her husband will be remembered at the 1:45 p.m. memorial service held once a month at Menorah Manor. On Tuesday the Mass at St. Anthony's Hospital Chapel, where Mrs. Gelb often sought solace, was offered in his memory.

Though she no longer has to be concerned about her husband's care, Mrs. Gelb has other worries. The former Chase Manhattan Bank employee said she is concerned about money and is waiting to find out how much she will receive from her husband's Social Security.

"I am in God's hands," she said. "I say to God, "Please don't forget me and stay with me. What you decide is good.' "

To save money, she might have to move from the one-bedroom apartment she shared with her husband at Presbyterian Towers into an efficiency apartment in the same complex, Mrs. Gelb said.

She has begun to fill boxes with her husband's belongings.

"I want to get rid of everything. I'm going to give it to the Hospice," she said.

But she will keep the memories.

Among them is the Menorah Manor garden that her husband grew to love.

"One day, we were in the garden. I was praying and he was sleeping," Mrs. Gelb recalled this week.

"It started a concert from birds that you can't imagine so beautiful. I said, "William, William, you listen?' Like 15 minutes they sing. My girlfriend told me, "Maybe this is from the heavens for William.' "

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