When a couple with children goes through an ugly divorce, it often ends up tearing apart the entire family and life the two people worked so hard to build up in the beginning.
So when one Minnesota couple accepted that it was time to get a divorce, they promised each other that they would stay friends and keep their family together. So when a health scare jeopardized everything they had worked to keep intact decades later, the former spouses came together and tackled the problem together.
Both Mary Ziegler and Bill Henrichs were born and raised in Princeton, Minnesota to large Catholic families. According to the pair, they met when they were both in ninth grade and quickly became close. “We did a lot of hunting, fishing, working on the farm together,” Ziegler told the Saint Cloud Times.
More Than Friends
As they both got older, Ziegler and Henrichs became more than friends. While still teenagers, the pair got engaged and became husband and wife when Ziegler was just 18 years old and Henrich was 19. After their wedding, the couple moved about 30 miles east of Princeton to Saint Cloud.
A Young Family
“He was going to be a rock star,” Ziegler said. While Henrichs joined a band, she got a job working at a wholesale beverage supplier and distributor where she still works today. Within a few years, the couple got pregnant and welcomed their first child, Matthew, who is now 30 years old.
The Second Child
About two years later, the couple gave birth to their second child, Macy, who is now 28 years old. Ziegler and Henrichs were devoted to their kids and building their life together. However, as the years passed something started to change in their relationship.
Things Had Changed
By the time they were 40, both Ziegler and Henrichs realized that their relationship wasn’t what it once was. “You’re a lot different when you’re 40 than when you’re 18,” Ziegler said. “We’ve always been really good friends and companions. It’s just that we both really changed.”
So after 22 years of marriage, Ziegler and Henrichs decided to get a divorce. However, the pair had been friends long before they were married. Together, they decided that getting a divorce didn’t mean that their friendship didn’t have to end as well.
A Practical Attitude
“It’s always been on the adult, practical side of things,” Henrichs told the Saint Cloud Times about the divorce. “We wanted to make sure that our kids were as affected as best as possible,” Ziegler said. “Kids don’t ask for divorced parents, and so, it’s not fair to them.”
Committed To The Family
“We kind of made a commitment at the time to get along,” Henrichs explained about their decision not to destroy their family and all the good things they shared. “And to not do anything poorly to each other and to the kids. You know all those bad divorce things, we agreed not to do that.”
A Blended Family
Shortly after the divorce, Henrichs met and started dating his current wife, Linda. “Linda happened to come into Henrichs’s life and they were a good match,” Ziegler said. And when Ziegler remarried, they all worked together to raise Henrich and Ziegler’s two kids as well as Linda’s two daughters.
Working As A Team
“I would have never wanted to raise my kids without (Linda). .. And my kids will tell you the same thing, that they’re so grateful that she was in their lives,” Ziegler said. “I admire her. And she’s a lot of things that I’m not… We were a very good complement for each other, and I tell everybody this.”
A Blessing To The Family
“I always say that Bill never left our family, but his wife Linda joined it,” Ziegler added. “I consider Linda a gift to my kids and me, and to Bill, and one of the best things that ever happened to all of us.” For years, the blended family thrived together.
A Health Crisis
However, recently, the blended family was put to the test when Henrichs started struggling with his health. For a long time, Henrichs has been living with kidney failure caused by his diabetes and hypertension. “It was fairly stable for quite a few years, and then I started to drop in the last year,” he said.
Time For A Tranplant
When his Kidneys started to fail, doctors told Henrichs that he would need a kidney transplant. “I had probably 30 people volunteer to be checked and tested,” Henrichs said. However, the first two people to get tested who wanted to donate a kidney to Henrich weren’t healthy enough to match. Several others weren’t a match.
A Sign From The Universe
At that point, Ziegler volunteered to get tested to see if she could donate a kidney to her ex-husband. The test revealed Ziegler and Henrich had the same blood type and even shared some of the same antigens. “The universe was just kind of like, you’re the one,” Ziegler said.
Answering The Call
“I’m a big believer in when you’re tapped on the shoulder, you should answer the call,” said Ziegler, who also made a point to remind Henrich one of the reasons she could donate was because she took such good care of her health. “One of our issues, when we were married, is I’m super-athletic and into health and fitness and wellness and this guy wasn’t,” Ziegler added. “So I was going to remind you. … Aren’t you glad?”
A Big Risk
While Henrichs was grateful for his ex-wife’s generosity, he was still concerned about her wellbeing. “I wasn’t so worried about myself,” Henrichs said. “Going into this, it’s kind of like … worrying about two people. So that was a little hard for me.”
Thankfully, the surgery was successful and Ziegler only took three weeks to recover and get back to work. “I do a lot of yoga and you know, that’s super core strengthening,” Ziegler said. “If anything, I feel invigorated and energetic because I had to sit around for two weeks.”
Focusing On The Important Things
Henrichs, who now has both of his old kidneys and a third healthy one from Ziegler, is still recovering from the surgery but is doing better every day. However, in the wake of the surgery, many people have been stunned to learn that Henrich’s ex-wife was his donor. “One of the surgeons that I talked to, he said, it’s more common than you think, especially when they’re older like us,” Ziegler said. “And for the same reasons. You share children. You share grandchildren. You’re 60 years old and (know) what’s important in life now. It’s not all the crap that happened before. It’s about the rest of your life.”
“I mean our kids have always been really proud to tell the story of their mom and dad and their stepmom and dad,” Ziegler said about their tight-knit, blended family. “But now, I think they were really proud to say, yeah, my mom gave my dad a kidney, and they’re divorced.”
A Selfless Act
“I don’t think what I did was too amazing,” Ziegler added. “I was thrilled to be able to do it. To do it for, not just him, but for my kids and for Linda, everybody. So, I’m pretty grateful that I did take good care of myself all my life… I did a good thing, but people that do it altruistically, I’m in awe of them. That is really selfless.”