Louise Diest remembers her husband as a giver, a teacher, and a man who despite something of a gruff exterior, loved to help others become the best they can be.
Henry Diest passed away on Feb. 3, surrounded by family. The Paradis man and longtime volunteer firefighter in St. Charles Parish had battled declining health since suffering a major heart attack in June of 2012, and in late-January things had progressed far enough for doctors to put him on hospice care for his remaining days.
He proved a true fighter for years – Louise said he was technically considered dead three different times on the night of his first heart attack and doctors believed it to be a longshot he’d survive the night. He not only did that, but lived for nearly eight more years.
Henry was with the St. Charles Parish Volunteer Fire Department since 1998, working in Paradis, Bayou Gauche and Des Allemands. Even after his first heart attack rendered him unable to fight fires himself anymore, he stayed on with the department to teach up and coming fire fighters.
“He was definitely a fighter,” Louise said. “He was a very giving man and he loved the fire department. He loved teaching the kids who would become firefighters eventually … he taught the right way to do things and not the lazy way, and explained why you did it that way.”
He found a kindred spirit in Louise, who has been an EMT since 2003 and has also worked with the Paradis Fire Department. The two were married for 34 years.
The two didn’t meet while on duty, though.
“We actually met at a gas station,” Louise said. “I was working there at the time … he went there to see a friend of his and he actually told his friend that day he was going to marry me. We started talking and then dating … and we went on to get married.”
They moved to Paradis in the summer of 1996. Their three sons all followed in their parents footsteps in service, one a New Orleans firefighter, one an EMT and one in the National Guard, working as an on-base mechanic.
“It’s kind of a family thing for us,” Louise said.
A family friend made a GoFundMe on behalf of the Diests to help with costs for Henry’s arrangements – he had long been unable to work since his initial heart attack and survived on disability, while Louise hasn’t been able to work since his hospice diagnosis. A goal of $1,500 was surpassed as of Monday of this week, (Henry Diest Medical/Last Days of Life Fundraiser) with more than $2,600 raised.
He touched a lot of lives, as can be attested to by the memories shared on social media, including his Facebook page.
“People have been wonderful,” Louise said of those lending support and kind words. “They say how he taught them so much, shaped them into the person they are now. He was a kinda rough-edged guy. He could be very loud and forceful, but he had a passion for it.”
She also called him a great father, and his loss has been – as one would imagine – difficult to cope with for the family.
“My boys each married very strong women, and they have support from their spouses to get them through this, as well as constant contact with me and our family,” Louise said.
As for her, she said it’s lent her a different perspective.
“Having known it was coming, I gained a very different perspective when I go to a patient’s home,” she said. “Because whether it’s sudden or whether you know it’s coming, it doesn’t make it any easier. Sometimes knowing can be harder, sometimes.
“The only thing about it was, we did have that chance to have that final gathering with Henry. You don’t always get the chance to say goodbye.”
Henry Diest’s services will be held Saturday at Life Fellowship Church in Des Allemands, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.