By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer
Eighteen years ago, Evangeline Dionisio didn't think she would survive the death of her husband, the man she had known since they were second-graders in the Philippines.
He died after a two-year bout with cancer, leaving her to raise their three children alone in Hawai'i, thousands of miles away from her family.
The pain of his death hit her hardest at 5 p.m., when her husband, who joined the U.S. Navy in 1968, used to come home from work.
He had never been late. Now, he would never come home.
Then one day, someone else walked through Dionisio's front door at 5 p.m.
Her name was Mercy Capati.
Like Dionisio, she was a Philippines-born Navy wife with three children living in 'Ewa Beach. While they knew each other, they weren't close. Not until that day.
Capati urged the grieving widow to go for a walk. "Just pour out to me," she told Dionisio, who at first resisted. "I'm pretty sure it will help you. Come, let's get out of the house."
She finally agreed. They walked around the neighborhood — sometimes talking, sometimes in silence — for about an hour.
"I started pouring out to her," said Dionisio, now 57. "I told her I don't know if I will survive, if I'm able to take care of my three children. There were times when I'd cry and cry ... and she just listened."
Capati returned to Dionisio's home the next day, again at 5 p.m.
She did this for three years, never missing a day, never letting anything — not rain, not illness — prevent their walks.
When Shelly Mecum, Dionisio's co-worker, heard this story years later, she knew it had to be shared with the world.
"When she shared this story with me, I really had an empathy, it touched my very spirit," said Mecum, a 42-year-old writer and Navy wife from Hawai'i Kai. "I was so touched by that story, I got chicken skin. I knew it was extraordinary."
Mecum wrote the story, appropriately titled "Mercy," and sent it to the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series, which was looking for stories that would fit a collection for military wives.
Her story was chosen.
"Mercy" is one of three stories by Hawai'i writers featured in the "Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul" (HCI, $12.95), which hit bookstores earlier this year.
This latest installment in the "Chicken Soup" series is a tribute to the women who have taken the unwritten oath to live a life of frequent moving, lengthy separations and endless anxieties. There are stories about patriotism, about missed holidays, about military brats.
Despite the wide range of topics, these stories all show the unique worlds these families live in, a life like no other.
"We felt this book was a good way to acknowledge and entertain the 'silent ranks' who also defend and protect our homeland," said book co-author and military wife Cindy Pedersen.
When Tom Fitch joined the U.S. Air Force after college, he told his wife, Laura, they would see the world.
Twenty years later, the couple from Ohio have never lived outside the U.S. In fact, before moving to Kailua last year, the farthest west they had been was New Mexico.
"His first assignment was to Louisiana," said Laura Fitch, 43, an at-home mom of two adopted daughters. "I was thinking, 'OK, I've signed up to see the world and you brought me to Louisiana."
And if moving was bad enough, finding a hairstylist proved worse.
"I've been burned, blonded, streaked, foiled, bobbed, stripped, layered, shaved, treated, ironed and turned into a brunette — all in the name of beauty," she writes in "Hair Humor," her contribution to the book.
Her worst experience was in Louisiana, when a stylist, in the process of perming her hair, burned her forehead instead.
"It really bugs me that every time we move I have to find someone new to trust," said Fitch, who thankfully found a competent stylist in Kailua. "It can be a humbling experience to find a new person and (your hair) comes out strange. If a woman's hair is messed up, it ruins her day."
In a lot of ways, the changes to her hair over the years reflect the changing of their lives with each move. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's really, really bad.
"Change is hard," said Fitch, who now keeps her hair short. "But we're forced to change, especially being in the military. We have to take the good with the bad, and I try to keep a positive outlook. It's hard sometimes. You have to have a sense of humor. Now I can look back and laugh at my burned forehead. It's funny now."
BATTLE WITH CANCER
After years of helping Dionisio deal with the death of her husband, Capati is now facing her own battle with cancer.
"I don't feel good about it," Dionisio said, her voice shaking with emotion. "I worry about her."
The women talk on the phone all the time. And they see each other at least every Sunday at church.
Dionisio wants the world to know how special Capati is, how what she did for her — though not significant to some — saved her life.
And with her story in this book, Dionisio hopes no one will ever forget.
"I tell my children, 'Remember what Aunty Mercy did for me,' " Dionisio said. "She is family to me. She is my Mother Teresa."
Reach Catherine E. Toth at firstname.lastname@example.org.