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‘Can I see her?’ Couple holds hands in hospital days before 71st anniversary

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Bernice and John Mullins

RICHMOND, Va. — “Can I see her?” That was the question John Mullins asked his caregiver when he learned his wife of nearly 71 years was in the hospital room right next to his at Johnston-Willis Hospital. John, a 92-year-old World War II veteran, had been hospitalized since November. His wife Bernice was recently admitted to the hospital to undergo surgery, according to family members.

“I asked the nurse if it was possible,” John Mullins personal care aide Chyenne Marion said. “I was told he was hooked up to too many machines and it was not possible to take him out of his hospital room.”

Then Chyenne asked the nurses if 90-year-old Bernice could be moved. It turned out, she could. Soon Bernice’s hospital bed wheeled into John’s hospital room and she was placed next to her husband.

“They were together about an hour or two holding hands and sleeping,” Chyenne said. “I was crying and all other nurses were crying. It was like a real-life ‘The Notebook.'”

While the photo Chyenne took in the hospital room captured what appeared to be a scene from Hollywood love story, the couple’s actual love story more closely resembles real life.

John and Bernice: A Complicated Love Story

When John and Bernice Mullins were married in 1945, they were in Florida while John was in the Navy, according to their granddaughter Angie Gaines. Gaines said her grandparents raised her as a child after the death of her own mother.

While John worked to support his family, Bernice stayed home to raise the children where she instilled moral values within them, Gaines said.

But something happened about 30 years ago. John and Bernice realized they could no longer live with each other. The couple separated, but never divorced. In fact, they remained next-door neighbors in Cumberland County.

“Even though they separated, they never stopped caring for each other,” Gaines said.

That caring has lasted decades.

Before they were taken to the hospital this year, personal care aide Chyenne Marion said John Mullins would often ask her to bring him over to see Bernice at her home. She said John always brought something with him to give to his wife.

For that reason, Chyenne said she was not surprised when John seemed excited to learn his wife with so close to him at the hospital last week.

“I just love her death,” John Mullins told Chyenne when the unexpected hospital visit with his wife ended.

The Photo

Chyenne said she took a photo of John and Bernice Mullins holding hands in the hospital so family members who could not be in the hospital could share in the moment. Those family members were instantly moved when they saw the image.

“I was driving when the photo came over on my phone,” Angie Gaines. “I was just bawling.”

Without knowing much of the couple’s backstory, reaction to the photo on social media has been overwhelming, Gaines said.

“This is the cutest most loving tear-jerker I have ever seen!” Debbie Farag posted. “So thoughtful of the staff!”

“These are the little things that make me feel rejuvenated and proud to work at Johnston Willis,” Christina Manns posted. “There are some awesome nurses I work around there.”

The photo, posted to the WTVR CBS 6 Facebook page, has been liked nearly 6,000 times and shared more than 1,000.

Home from the Hospital

Bernice Mullins is expected to be released from the hospital any day now, her granddaughter said. John Mullins should be released before the end of the year, Angie Gaines added. The couple will mark their 71st wedding anniversay next month.

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UPDATE: Bernice Mullins was released from the hospital on Monday. John Mullins is scheduled to be released from the hospital Tuesday.