“We all suffered together and bonded during traumatic times. We were there to support one another. What goes on behind the doors of a Fisher House is remarkable.”
As he sat in his Army veteran’s baseball cap, Melvin (Mel) Twining slowly told the story of his son; his two years and one week living at Fisher House; the lifelong friendships he made there, and most importantly, on that particular day, his wedding to a woman he obviously loved deeply.
“I could think of no better place to marry Chel (Ritchel Nagdaparan) than the Chicago VA Fisher House,” said Mel. “This is my home and all these people here today are my family. I couldn’t be happier, even though I have tears in my eyes. I’m sorry I get so emotional, but memories of my son and the love I feel from everyone makes me that way. Fisher House changed my life when my son, Nate, was sick and it continues to do so today.”
Nate Twining, Mel’s son, was a career 101st Airborne soldier. He served a combat tour in Iraq and another in Afghanistan. But it wasn’t a bullet or IED that killed him. That was a brain tumor. It took two long years, and according to Mel, the Fisher House is what kept him alive so long. “While we were living here, Nate touched everyone, and everyone loved Nate. Just ask anyone who knew my son,” said Mel.
Mel was right. We asked.
“Every morning, Nate would come into the kitchen and give me a kiss. It was the highlight of my day,” said Pearl Clark.
“Everyone loved Nate, and I was no exception,” said Sylvia Arcos.
“Nate loved board games and we played a lot. You really get to know someone playing games together. Nate was a saint,” said Fran Edmunds, a Gold Star sister.
“Nate, Mel and I would go fishing or to baseball games. I consider them both my dearest friends,” said Ernest Clark, a Vietnam veteran who gave Chel away at the wedding.
Wedding guests came from five states. Two couples drove more than 400 miles. Everyone agreed they would never have missed it. They were all there for Nate’s funeral at the Chicago National Cemetery and they were there to celebrate Mel’s happiness now and to hear Mel and Chel vow their love to one another for the rest of their lives.
Yes, these families are friends, but Mel will tell you without hesitation that he came to the Fisher House with one family and left with one much, much larger. “In some ways we are closer than family,” said Mel. “We all suffered together and bonded during traumatic times. We were there to support one another. What goes on behind the doors of a Fisher House is remarkable.”
Holly Wright, the manager of the Chicago Fisher House, whom everyone agrees is a mother angel, has a sign outside her office door: “Take a deep breath. You are home.”
Holly Wright, the manager of the Chicago Fisher House, whom everyone agrees is a mother angel, has a sign outside her office door: “Take a deep breath. You are Home.”
Certainly, the families attending the wedding that day would have agreed wholeheartedly.