Heather Glidewell McDonald’s life is a love story. One big part of her story is that she fell for her Rogers, Ark., high school sweetheart, Don McDonald. They separated to attend different colleges, but that didn’t last long and, in 1975, they graduated from Hendrix College in Conway, together — a year after they got married. They remained husband and wife for 37-1/2 years.
From the beginning, Heather was surrounded by the love of family.
She was raised in the warm embrace of her parents and a single brother, but when she married Don, she entered a much larger family, and immediately fit in. Don was one of seven brothers, with no sisters, and Heather quickly became a soft yet solid addition to this rowdy clan. And even though it wasn’t the same as falling for Don, both she and her in-laws fell deeply, and permanently, in love with each other.
She carried this love into an Arkansas delivery room in 1980, giving birth to her first daughter, Rebecca. A few years later, Heather suffered through an excruciating delivery that ended with a heart-wrenching stillborn. Then, in 1986, it felt as if the lost spirit of that second child entered the soul of another baby that landed in their arms. Heather and Don adopted Megan, and their family, at least for a while, was complete.
Years later, they embraced three grandchildren — Alana, Jayde and Lydia — and Heather’s loving eyes grew even brighter.
Heather’s affections knew no boundaries, as was evident during the many summers she spent “hosting” a passel of young nieces and nephews so they could attend Memphis Zoo Camp, where she worked for years. It became an annual experience that they will never forget.
Of course, Heather also had an abiding love for animals, and her home was never empty of dogs, cats, birds, reptiles and an assortment of other critters. Her passion with all things living was special, and she passed that on to countless children over the years.
Before moving to Memphis, Heather was an elementary school teacher. For a while during the 1980s, she carried a particularly heavy load as a caretaker of Don’s grandfather, while teaching full-time, mothering all the time, and supporting Don as he doggedly made his way through medical school. Never, at any time, did she lose her ability to stand strong while offering a gentle hand.
Heather and Don finished raising Rebecca and Megan in Memphis.
Following his medical residency there, Don went into private practice as a psychiatrist in West Memphis, Ark., and in her final years, Heather worked behind the scenes, and at the front reception desk, to help keep the practice on solid footing.
All her life, Heather didn’t just gather love, she gave it, to everyone who became a part of her life. She didn’t know hatred; instead, she accepted everyone for exactly who they were.
In the early morning hours of Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012, after battling pancreatic cancer for 3-1/2 years, Heather said her last words, to Don.
“I love you.”
Don says it didn’t feel as if she was speaking exclusively to him, but that she seemed to be speaking to her entire family. Maybe. Or perhaps it was to the world; her ability to love was that great.
Perhaps there was no better way to say goodbye than to express, one last time, the totality of her life. Hers was a love story.
After those final words, she went to sleep and never regained consciousness. Don says that, later that morning, she had such a peaceful look on her face that he thought maybe it wasn’t the end, that maybe she was going to make another comeback. That perhaps she’d stay with him just a little longer.
Instead, she quietly stopped breathing. Don says he now thinks that peaceful look was her in communion with the other side.
Heaven is an even better place now. Here on Earth, we’ve been blessed by one, beautiful, love story. Rest in peace, Heather. We love you too.
Tom McDonald is editor and publisher of the Las Vegas Optic. He may be reached at 505-425-6796 or firstname.lastname@example.org.