‘And the greatest of these is love’
By Monte Mace
Archdiocese of Kansas City, KS
October 20, 2006
OVERLAND PARK — For fifty-two years,
Ted and Herminia Reyes have cared for their son like a baby.
That’s because Ricky, who is now a
middle-aged man, has been bedridden his entire life.
Born with developmental
disabilities, Ricky has the mind of a two-month-old.
He can’t talk to his parents. He
isn’t able to get out of bed by himself. Ted and Herminia must bathe, shave and
But none of that has diminished the
Reyes’ love for their son, which seems to have only grown over the years.
It is fueled by a steadfastness of
faith that most of us can only envy — their pastor included.
The Reyeses, says Holy Spirit,
Overland Park, pastor Father Harry Schneider, are nothing short of “heroes.”
Father Schneider visits the Reyes’
home several times a year to anoint Ricky and to pray with him and the family.
He always leaves, he said, feeling
humbled and even a little ashamed.
“I always come away thinking, ‘You
think you’re doing so much. But you’re not doing anything,’” said Father
Schneider. “I feel very humble next to them.”
When Ricky was born in 1954, doctors
told the parents that their son would be a vegetable. It had been a difficult
delivery, requiring a Caesarean section that almost cost Herminia her own life.
Ricky’s disabilities were severe,
and he was blind as well. Doctors predicted he would never walk or talk, and
would be bedridden for the rest of his life.
Faced with such a burden, many
couples would have chosen to have Ricky placed in an institution where trained
medical people could care for him.
But Ted and Herminia wouldn’t hear
“I said, ‘Uh-uh,’” Herminia
recalled. “‘My son isn’t going to be a vegetable.’”
So they brought their baby home and
set to work. With the help of a tricycle whose pedals they turned by hand, they
exercised his legs, keeping them from atrophying.
When at the age of eight months,
Ricky said his first word — “Mama,” on Mother’s Day, no less —the Reyeses felt
vindicated. It was the first glimpse of a brighter future than the original
diagnosis had held out.
But hopes for that brighter future
were dashed — forever — when the brain surgery that the doctors recommended when
Ricky was about nine months old was unsuccessful.
“After the surgery, he didn’t do
much any more,” said Herminia simply.
And there, the Reyes’ story really
For with hope torn from them, only
faith — and love — remained.
Fifty-one years have passed since
that Mother’s Day on which Ricky spoke his one and only word.
Today, Ricky is a middle-aged man
with graying hair and a mustache.
Every day, his father bathes him
with a sponge, then rubs lotion onto his legs. Ted is also the one who usually
spoon feeds Ricky each of his meals — normally baby food, but occasionally his
favorite dish: scrambled eggs with butter.
Ricky passes his days and nights in
a hospital bed in a bright, clean bedroom of the Reyes ’ Overland Park home.
Toy cars form a semicircle on the floor. Religious statues and holy cards
occupy a corner of the room, and a white photo album of old, black-and-white
photographs mark the various milestones in Ricky ’s life.
At Christmas, Herminia decorates a
full-sized, separate tree to brighten Ricky’s room, because “he needs a special
tree,” she said.
Ted attends the 9 a.m. Mass on
Sundays; Herminia, the noon. The two take turns so as not to leave Ricky alone,
although on special occasions like Christmas or Easter, they hire an attendant
so they can attend Mass together.
About twice a month, a seizure will
grip Ricky, and his parents have to hold their son down to keep him from
injuring himself. Once, a seizure that must have occurred in the middle of the
night resulted in a broken femur, and an emergency trip to the hospital the next
morning for treatment.
Ricky doesn’t sleep much at night,
which means Herminia doesn’t either.
Despite rarely getting more than
four or five hours a sleep at night, she brushes off the surprise or concern of
“That’s enough sleep,” she insists.
Although Herminia has always stayed
home with Ricky, Ted worked as a repair and maintenance man at the General
Motors Leeds plant until his retirement after 38 years.
Even after he retired, Ted painted
houses in order to provide Ricky with the best home care possible. When he found
a used hospital bed for sale, Ted painted the man ’s house in exchange for the
It was only recently that the
Reyeses sought government aid to help with Ricky’s care — and that was only at
the urging of a doctor. Now a check of $75 a month supplements Ted ’s retirement
Blessing, not a burden
The Reyeses, now in their late 70s,
show no signs of tiring of their demanding routine, nor is their faith flagging.
In fact, it is only trust in God,
said Herminia, that has sustained her through the many years of caring for Ricky
— and other tragedies as well. She and Ted lost the son born after
Ricky only a few hours after his birth. Their third-born and only daughter,
Theresa, died at the age of 20 of hepatitis.
“Faith has carried me through,”
Herminia said. “I say a rosary every day. If I feel the world is closing in on
me, I say a prayer and I feel OK again.”
The couple draws support and relief
from their two other sons, Ted Jr. and Joe. Both are married with children and
homes of their own, but visit their parents often and help with Ricky, just as
they did when they were growing up.
Despite the occasional fights that
he and his brother Joe would get into when other kids made fun of Ricky, said
Ted Jr., he feels no sort of resentment over the unique cross his family has
been asked to carry. Joe agreed.
“Some people say it must be a
burden,” said Joe. “No. It’s been a blessing.”
The two men need look no further
than their parents for a true witness to their Catholic faith.
“They’ve been the best models for
us,” said Ted Jr. “They gave up their lives so we could succeed. Faith really
does work. Our parents accepted what God gave them.”
Ted and Herminia don’t pretend that
it’s been easy. The situation strained their marriage of 56 years, and Ted
readily admits that it ’s Herminia’s love and faith that’s kept them together.
It has also bound the family in ways
that many parents only dream of. The extended family gathers frequently for
Mass, meals and special occasions, and its members are openly affectionate and
supportive of each other.
Herminia will take no credit for
this very special family, born of her indefatigable love.
“The Lord has been good to us,” she
“When I look around, there are
plenty of other people who are worse off than we are,” he said.
But he advises other families — with
or without disabled children — to appreciate what they have.
“You shouldn’t take everything for
granted,” he said. “Life is not going to be like you think it should be.”