Myra Hietschel was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey in a family that consisted of her parents and her beloved younger brother Ira. After high school, she got a job working at the American can manufacturing company. World War II was going on, and after work, in order to do her part to support her country, Myra would spend her evenings volunteering, along with her friend Emma, as nurse aides at a local hospital in Newark where there was shortage of nurses.
Later, following the war, Myra’s brother Ira met a girl named Marilyn, and they fell in love. Shortly after that Ira was shipped off to Texas to serve for two years in the army. During this time Myra regularly wrote her brother, sending him money for personal items as well as stamps, so he could keep up his correspondence with his sweetheart Marilyn. He was short on money, you see, because at some point Ira spent most of the money he had on an engagement ring for Marilyn, which Myra secretly kept around her own neck for safekeeping until Ira could get back home to present it to Marilyn himself.
Myra was happy for Ira and Marilyn’s love that they had found in one another, but she was 28 and most girls in those days were married long before they reached such a ripe old age. Myra accepted the fact that marriage just wasn’t going to be a part of her life. She would, nonetheless, be content.
And then one evening at a dance she had gone to with her friend Emma, she met Hank, recently home from the Korean war. When she least expected it, love showed up. To everyone’s amazement, six months later on September 12, 1953, Myra and Hank were married, beating Ira and Marilyn to the altar. (Myra and Hank would be married on this earth for 48 years.)
In 1959 Myra and Hank moved to Parsippany. Shortly thereafter Myra’s widowed mother moved in with them, living with them until her death in 1973, as Myra faithfully and lovingly cared for her in her old age. Hank’s mother also lived in Parsippany, and Myra and Hank were vigilant in looking after her needs as well.
Myra shaped a happy life together in Parsippany. For many years she worked in the accounting office at Allied Chemical.
Ira, Marilyn and their two kids, Kevin and Ellen were a big part of Myra and Hank’s life, with Ira becoming Hank’s best friend. They alternated hosting Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. They took vacations at the shore together, where Myra and Hank loved to swim in the ocean, swimming, in fact out beyond where the waves broke. (Much later she would say that one thing she missed was putting her feet in the surf.) At every imaginable holiday, Kevin and Ellen, and later Kevin and Carol’s children Corrie and Natalie, would receive a card with $5 in it from their aunt and uncle. It was just one of those things you could count on. Myra loved traditions.
Myra enjoyed crocheting, jigsaw puzzles, reading, and playing hymns on the piano. She collected crystal figurines and ration cards from World War II and postcards and the gift tags of presents long ago received. She enjoyed the simple, everyday stuff of life, keeping a diary, recording what happened each day, big or small. She particularly enjoyed getting on the road with her husband to see this great land; together Myra and Hank traveled to all 49 states of the continental US.
A big part of her life, of course was this church. It was an extended family for her. She loved going to church; loved being a part of the United Methodist Women. She truly was the “salt of the earth, the light of the world,” as Jesus said of his disciples. Her warmth and humility, her gentle compassion and genuine goodness, were one of those quiet sustaining strengths that sustained the life of this congregation. Together here in church Myra and Hank nurtured a simple, heart felt faith in the goodness of the Lord that saw them through everything life brought them.
And in the latter years of Myra’s life, the challenges life brought her were daunting. In 1990, at the age of 66, following an endless battle with diabetes, first one leg, and then the other, were amputated beneath the knee. Two months later her beloved brother Ira died suddenly. These were devastating blows, physically and emotionally.
Through it all Myra never complained, never indulged herself in self-pity, never gave up on life. There was a strength and toughness to Myra that could easily be missed beneath her gentleness and sweetness. With Hank’s always constant support she committed herself to the hard work of physical rehabilitation.
Less than a year later Myra was walking again on new prostheses. One of the great all time moments in our congregation’s life was that first Sunday that Myra walked forward with Hank to receive communion. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Through it all, Myra kept her wonderful sense of humor — her easy laugh. She found it funny, for instance, when sitting in the dentist’s chair one of her prostheses accidentally fell over and the dental hygienist, who hadn’t known she had artificial legs, looked absolutely horrified, as if it were her legs themselves that had fallen off. It made her chuckle when a friend, forgetting about her artificial legs, asked her how a new pair of shoes felt.
Before long, Myra and Hank were on the road again. In 1994 they headed out on their most adventurous trip of all, spending almost three months exploring the beautiful wilderness of Alaska. During the trip Myra had occasion to pan for gold, and, finding some, she made herself a pair of earrings.
In recent years Myra’s health began to decline again. She endured the misery of dialysis. She spent September 11th in the hospital, and at that time the doctor told Hank that it was just a matter of time before her heart gave out. But with Hank at her side, she found the strength to keep going. She was there at his side when we broke ground for the new sanctuary, so proud of what Hank had accomplished.
Hank, of course, would never have been able to do the things he did in this world, were it not for the strength he drew from Myra’s constant love and support. They were one another’s best friends, truest confidants. They truly were “one flesh.”
On Myra’s last birthday Hank gave her a card which read as follows:
If a man is lucky; really lucky, he finds that one woman who is meant for him,
that one woman who can fill his life with love, and hope and happiness.
If a man is lucky, really lucky, he finds that one special woman and makes her his own forever.
On your birthday I just want you to know that I think of myself as the luckiest man in the world.
Happy birthday with all my love (always)
xxx ooo xxx ooo
And then to everybody’s great surprise, especially Myra’s, Hank got sick suddenly in early May and in two short days was dead.
In the midst of Myra’s deep, deep sorrow, there was also gratitude. “We had a good long life together”, she said. Without Hank at her side, however, she no longer had the strength to go on and keep fighting. She was grateful for her family’s love and care, grateful for Lois and other church friends who were helping out, grateful for the Godsend of Lara the home health aid, but in truth, she didn’t want to be here any more. She wanted to leave this world and be with Hank. In the hospital the nurses reported that in her half conscious state, Myra would call out for Hank.