It's an unsuspecting magical place — a home overlooking Puget Sound, outside of Seattle. But Bert and Robin Brumett's home has come to be known as the Church of Bert, a place where strangers are welcome and there's always someone willing to listen.
It is a remarkable story of devotion, generosity and innovation. A loving wife, refusing to allow the quality of her husband's life to decline despite a crippling illness, reached out on the Internet for help.
The view of Puget Sound from the Brumetts' home is stunning, but some say what's even more beautiful is what is happening inside.
"I call it the Church of Bert because there's this thing that happened in there and it was like how you might feel after you leave a good Sunday service or something," volunteer Nadine Joy said. "I felt that there was something larger than all of us that was there."
After Bert was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease in 2004, Robin posted an ad on Craigslist.com, making an online plea for people to come share their world with him. Because Bert loved the world so much, she decided to bring the world to him. Hundreds responded, to come talk about any topic — their lives, their families, almost anything.
And then they came, one by one, most of them strangers. One man came and read from his newly finished novel set during the Civil War. A noted scientist came to talk to Bert about earthquakes and volcanoes. One young woman came to tell him of her experiences in the Peace Corps and her travels on all seven continents. David Johns brought his daughter Mia and he even read her a storybook as Bert listened.
Love of Her Life
Bert and Robin have been married for 40 years and used to run a television station in Seattle. Bert loved playing tennis and playing with his kids. He retired early and started traveling with his wife. Robin loved trying new things, and Bert loved doing anything with Robin.
But as the golden years arrived in 2004, Robin and Bert noticed something was terribly wrong.
"A little bit of shortness of breath was the very first thing," Robin said.
Dr. Joshua Benditt said Bert started to have problems with muscle weakness and problems talking.
It wasn't long before they received the devastating diagnosis: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS — Lou Gehrig's disease, the neurological disorder that robs one of the use of muscles and usually leads to death in just a few years.
People who die of ALS stop breathing, so Bert was put on a ventilator that breathes for him. Now he cannot move a muscle. He blinks to communicate. But he sees, hears and understands everything.
"Would you like to see a movie tonight here at home?" Robin asked Bert, and he held up a sign that said "Yes," so she responded, "All right, then we will."
One of his last communications with her was a love letter.
"I was putting on his socks and shoes for him and it said, 'Babe,' — we call each other 'Babe' — 'Babe, if this was reversed, I'd be doing this for you. I love you forever.' It makes me feel bad when I think about it. But I know that he would," Robin said.
For those who come, Bert is a reminder of the way life can change. Bert's willingness to listen, combined with Robin's contagious hope and dedication, has made them a host of lifelong friends.
It's the Church of Bert, a vast cathedral of the human heart.
Have a story you want to share with Bert Brumett? Would just like to send him a quick note? E-mail him. He would love to hear from you!