Royalton octogenarians grateful to be back home again

She’s a survivor, and he’s her wellspring of support.

It’s been a trying year for Clarence and Marguerite Gocken of Royalton, but they’re ever thankful to be back together again during this holiday season. Through sheer determination, and a lot of help from family and caregivers, Marguerite, 83, is enjoying the comforts of home after suffering a spinal cord injury from a fall a year ago, which left her a quadriplegic.

She and her husband of 60 years were finishing shopping for tile in St. Cloud for their new retirement home on Evergreen Street when she accidentally fell from the van, hitting her head on the pavement. She didn’t step foot onto the new flooring until nine months later and then from a wheelchair.

After spending several weeks in intensive care at St. Cloud Hospital, she eventually was released to St. Otto’s Care Center in Little Falls. Meanwhile, Clarence, 84, stayed with a nearby daughter and her family until the house was completed. (Pictured are Marguerite and Clarence Gocken of Royalton with home health aide Marilyn Balck.)

“She broke her neck and lived to tell about it. The doctors didn’t think she’d make it,” said Clarence from the couple’s new handicap accessible rambler. They had initially planned it for a wheelchair, because of Marguerite’s chronic arthritis. “We didn’t know it would be for this purpose or that she’d need it this soon,” he said.

Since returning home on August 1, Marguerite has made remarkable improvement, said Marilyn Balck, lead home health aide from Horizon Health in Pierz. Marilyn generally works several hours both mornings and evenings, performing personal care and light housekeeping tasks.

“Personal needs come first,” she said, about bathing, dressing and grooming routines. She also helps her through a series of hand and leg exercises to keep the arthritic joints limber. Even though Clarence earlier assumed the cooking duties, aides often finish the common household chores.
By marshalling all the available community health care resources and with assistance from family, the Gockens once again are together in the familiar surroundings of their hometown where they farmed 20 years and raised a family of six children.

“Mother was released because we were able to line up help and had handicap facilities at home,” said daughter Margie Majaski, who fills the gaps when home health aides aren’t scheduled. Himself afflicted with heart and knee problems, Clarence acknowledges he couldn’t do it himself. In addition, daughter Loretta Jensen of Oakdale often stays three or four days at a time to help out.

“It’s kind of bad when the aides are gone. She can’t help herself,” explained her husband from his favorite chair. Despite the sudden turn of events, the two exhibit a noticeable closeness and have never lost their sense of humor. They try to maintain a positive attitude, which seems to rub off on the constant stream of visitors.

Three times per week a medivan picks up Marguerite to attend daycare activities at St. Otto’s. Margie usually drives on Wednesdays and she takes MorrTrans back. It gives the great-grandmother a chance to socialize with people she’s met at the nursing home.

Although she can’t remember the hospital stay, Marguerite does recall events leading up to the accident. “‘We were loading to go home. The shoelace on my left foot got caught as I was trying to change seats. It was an awful feeling,” she said softly from her wheelchair.

“Her biggest pain is from the arthritis now,” added Clarence. Together, they try to find different, more efficient, ways to care for her. For instance, Clarence is working on designing a specialized spoon to better fit her arthritic hand for eating. Marilyn knitted a pair of thumbless mitts to keep her hands warm.

The couple have accepted the aides as part of their extended family, which includes 14 grandchildren and 16 great-grandkids. Marilyn reciprocates by calling Marguerite her second Mamma. “I love her dearly,” she says, adjusting an elastic arm exerciser.

The Gockens farmed east of Royalton 20 years before retiring in Arizona. Clarence also worked 18 years at the boatworks in Little Falls. In addition to the farm chores, Marguerite sewed all the shirts and dresses for the family and planted a big garden.

Unfortunately, the arthritis she suffered from since childhood took its toll, which meant undergoing numerous surgeries. Over the years, she enjoyed keeping active by crocheting afghans, an artform she’d like to resume.

“We had a hard life, but it was a good life on the farm,” reflected Clarence, noting he’s got to put up some Christmas lights yet. Although the accident took some of the joy out of the season, the Gockens are ever grateful for every waking day.

“We’ll just take it as it comes,” he said about the upcoming holidays. “We’re just thankful to have each other and are still here.”

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