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'We just loved her': Young caregiver sings a final hymn to her dying patient

A caregiver who came into work on her day off to sing to a beloved patient created a lasting memory for the woman's family and friends.
/ Source: TODAY

A few weeks ago when caregiver Isabelle Jennings was talking to Mary Helen Schmelzle — one of the patients she regularly helps — 94-year-old Helen confided that she felt her struggle with congestive heart failure was near its end.

Fearing her elderly patient would pass away before her next shift, Isabelle, a nurse's aide, visited on her day off and created a lasting memory for herself and Helen's family.

“I loved Helen and I counted her as a friend,” Isabelle, 18, told TODAY. “I knew it would be the last time I saw her."

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Despite her sadness, Isabelle did what she always did with her friend — she sang. She held Helen's hand, singing the hymn “In the Garden” as Helen's daughter, Julie Nichol, recorded the moment.

“This beautiful act of kindness and compassion that Isabelle showed, it was very touching,” Julie told TODAY. “The best gift you can give somebody is your time, just your compassion."

Isabelle has worked at Life Care Center in Seneca, Kansas, for eight months and she bonded with Helen over their love of hymns. “Are you going to sing to me?”, Helen asked every time Isabelle walked into her room.

Isabelle Jennings a caregiver developed a special friendship with one of her patients, Mary Helen Schmelzle. She comforts one of Schmelzle's great granddaughters sadden by Schmelzle's illness.Courtesy of the Nichol family

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In Helen, the teenager found a “kindred spirit.”

“She just cared so deeply and I really connected with that,” Isabelle said. "She cared about the other residents so much. We would be at supper — she would see if people needed help."

Even as Helen’s health deteriorated, they developed a deeper relationship.

“I can’t hold myself back from caring for them or loving them because I am afraid of getting hurt, because then they don’t get the care they need,” Isabelle said.

Isabelle Jennings felt Mary Helen Schmelzle was a "kindred spirit." Jennings and her coworkers enjoyed the woman's company greatly. Courtesy of the Nichol family

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Helen's daughter, Julie, isn’t surprised that her mother fostered close friendships with her caregivers.

“She was really blessed with a very sharp mind. She said several rosaries every day,” Julie told TODAY.

Helen was in Life Care for seven years; she entered with her husband Gilbert who died at 89, only six months after arriving at the assisted living home. The two were married for 66 years and had five children while running a dairy farm. She canned their food and made their clothes, a habit which she started during the Depression. She was a loving, but strict mother.

“She was a disciplinarian,” said Julie. “But I always felt loved as a child.”

"I always felt loved as a child," Julie Nichol said about her mother, Mary Helen Schmelzle. Staff at Life Care Center truly loved Schmelzle and mourned her passing. Courtesy of the Nichol family

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Even after her husband passed away, Helen enjoyed her life. She formed close bonds with many of the staff, offering to pray for them.

“We just loved her and she was so dear to us,” said Isabelle.

Helen passed away on January 21. Julie shared the video of Isabelle singing to Helen in her final moments, with a wish that it inspires other caregivers.

“I am hoping they see the beauty of someone like Isabelle being in the present moment, taking the time to be compassionate,” she said.