Hospice patient Gene Mulder and his wife Lynn with their 3 Italian Greyhound puppies--Bella, Luci and Pia.

By Maria Lorensen, Development Director

Three Italian Greyhound puppies scurry up into their “daddy’s” lap, nestling in a plush tan oversize blanket that covers Gene Mulder’s legs. On this frigid but bright, sunny winter day, Bella, Luci and Pia find a comfortable spot, and quiet down.

“They’ll stay that way,” said Gene’s wife, Lynn. “They love being there.”

The puppies came to the Mulders last October, on a whim. Gene, who is a Hospice of the Panhandle patient, and Lynn, had been previous owners of a Greyhound, and decided to embark on the journey of having a new dog – well, dogs – again.

“We decided it would be the last big thing we would do together,” Lynn said.  “We’re back to our original (newlywed) selves – happy, smiling - with them.”

Gene, who is originally from Chicago, and Lynn, who hails from Catonsville, Md., met more than two decades ago at a “Parents Without Partners” group outside of Baltimore. Gene had spent his career as an engineer and Lynn was working as a paramedic. In 2003, they bought 23 acres of land off Pious Ridge Road in Morgan County, an area with which they were well familiar, as family members live in nearby Berkeley Springs. They intended to build a log home on the land, the plans for which Gene “drew up.”

“She thought of it; I designed it,” Gene said. “It was the third house I’d built.”

But when their home in Baltimore sold in 13 days, they found themselves living in an RV for a year while their house was being built – on the Morgan County property.

“He’d wake up in the middle of the night and say, ‘Something’s wrong,’” Lynn said. “And sure enough, it was.”

The house has three bedrooms, 2 ½ bathrooms, a large loft area – and lots of room for the puppies.

Gene, who will turn 85 in February, is a cardiac patient who also has vascular dementia. Lynn’s paramedic partner was the first person who suggested that Gene consider hospice care, more than a year ago. Lynn balked at first.

“My partner said I needed to talk to Gene’s primary physician (nurse practitioner Allison Wade),” Lynn said. “I fought her for a month, but when I realized hospice means making someone comfortable and providing support to the family then we decided to make the call. We’re really glad that we did.”

The Mulders have used “everyone” – that is, many of the disciplines that Hospice offers. They have had visits from nurses and aides, as well as Hospice of the Panhandle’s physician, Sarah Phillips. Gene has had a respite stay at the inpatient facility when Lynn was traveling to pick up the puppies. The facility, Lynn said, offered her “huge relief, knowing Gene was being taken care of.” And Lynn uses the grief support department for pre-bereavement counseling.

“Everyone we meet is so real,” Lynn said. “And it’s so nice to have someone there to give you direction. We’ve called at least twice during ‘off hours’ and it’s just a huge help.”

The Mulders have been married for 27 years, and have traveled throughout the U.S., mostly in their 34-foot motorhome. Most of their favorite trips have been out west – to the Tetons, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone and Montana. They’ve also spent many fall months in a favorite spot down south – Hilton Head, South Carolina. While they don’t travel anymore as a result of Gene’s illness, they still enjoy the outdoors. Gene spends a good part of the day, observing the wildlife while looking out a large picture window in their family room. They both have hunted over the years on the 23 acres of land that they own.

“I do love to hunt,” Lynn said. “Gene got me a tree stand one year.”

Gene chimes in that he hunted for about 10-12 years, and in all that time, bagged one deer. He added that the couple processes venison themselves.

During these twilight days of their marriage, Gene and Lynn still take the time to say “I love you” to each other several times a day and take time for lots of hugs.

“We’ve been getting used to a different way of life,” Lynn said. “We appreciate every second we have together.”