Theirs was an unconventional, yet enduring, love. It did not typify a couple that stayed together “through it all.” Still, it exemplified how, despite living far apart for nearly 2 decades after divorcing, they ultimately reunited and even remarried when it mattered the most – in the end.
“I was his caregiver those final days he was in hospice. I truly miss him,” said Kennewick, WA, resident Ellie Haynes about her late husband, Paul Bentley. The man she loved rose from humble beginnings to enjoy a long and highly successful career as an internal auditor for the U.S. Army and the Veteran’s Administration. In 1992, he received a kidney transplant, thanks to his brother, a living kidney donor.
Paul died in November 2017 at age 64. The rekindled romance between Ellie and Paul would lead to a final act of generosity: including in his will a sizeable bequest to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF). Although the couple had no previous involvement with NKF, Paul chose to leave the gift as his personal legacy for others who suffer with kidney disease.
“Paul was born in Massachusetts to a hard-working family of little means and channeled that great work ethic into building a good life for himself and his loved ones,” said NKF Chairman Art Pasquarella. “We are grateful to Paul and Ellie for sharing their success with us. NKF is honored to be a part of remembering Paul as we work continually on behalf of the 37 million Americans who have kidney disease.”
Paul’s work ethic and intellect were part of what Ellie loved about him. “He was a brilliant, amazingly smart, self-made man,” Ellie said. “I always said he had the mind of a computer hard drive.”
Ellie is a Vermont native but later settled in Western Washington, where she met Paul in the early 1980s. Nearly a decade later, they married – the first time. The union lasted 8 years. During their marriage, Ellie recalled, Paul was on dialysis three times a week for about a year before having his kidney transplant.
“The kidney his brother donated wasn’t a perfect match. Paul had to go on anti-rejection medication and back on dialysis,” Ellie said. “After a while, the kidney did work. It was a miracle thanks to the power of prayer. I learned at that time just how strong Paul’s faith was.” Paul’s one kidney transplant gave him a healthy life for more than 25 years, which Ellie believes might have lasted longer had he not developed skin cancer in recent years and endured repeated radiation treatments damaging his kidney.
After Ellie and Paul divorced, she stayed in Washington, and he moved to Alaska. They had no children and almost no contact with each other for about 10 years, until one day, Ellie said she received a surprise phone call.
“It was Paul, out of the blue, telling me he had been in a truck accident,” Ellie said. Soon, the long and newfound conversation sparked old feelings that quickly led to the couple getting back together.
“Paul was a loner, but he needed certain people in his life. I compared our relationship to a pair of old, very comfortable, sheep-skin slippers, easy to slip back into,” Ellie said.
Paul moved back to Washington to rejoin Ellie in 2017, but his health was failing fast, and he entered hospice care at home. The couple quickly decided to get remarried. “The hospice chaplain married us, which I was grateful for. I went from being a bride to a widow within less than 48 hours. Paul passed away a couple of days before Thanksgiving. I’m just glad we had that time together. That’s for sure.”
Ellie wants people to know about and remember the “good spirit, the good humor, determination and perseverance” Paul showed in the face of kidney disease and through all of his health issues. Ellie smiled as she reflected on each of these qualities that attracted her to him before their first marriage and years later leading to their reunion – and to his last days of life.