Yesterday was “Sweetest Day”. Thinking about that, I was reminded of something I witnessed a few years ago.
It was a several weeks before Dad and Mom celebrated their 69th anniversary, their last one here on earth. It seemed like not so long before, both were vigorous, healthy, strong and purpose-driven; yet by then, their days were long as their physical strength was giving way to the weakness that accompanied their age. Mom’s body was in her wheelchair most of her waking hours, while her mind was usually very far away. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s were becoming more evident, accompanied by severe hearing loss and failing eyesight. Many times she didn’t recognize us; her children and her grandchildren, who were always so dear to her, were strangers to her. But she knew Dad! Whenever he was out of her sight, she was quick to ask: “Where’s George?” She would settle down again when she knew he was still close, perhaps in the next room. Dad, on the other hand, still had a very sharp mind, but his body didn’t respond the way he wanted it to. Never known to be very verbally expressive, we always knew that Dad’s love for Mom ran very deep. No one would dare doubt that! Several times in the previous months she had fallen, and he, also captive in a weakened body, had tried – unsuccessfully – to pick her off the floor, injuring himself in the attempt. She would wake up often during the night, use all her effort to get out of bed, and inch her way over to him, and grab his big toe to see if he was still there. Reassured that he was, she would shuffle back to her own bed and go back to sleep. She asked him over and over again: “When are you going to take me home?” although they were in the same home they had lived in for over 60 years. Patiently, he answered her every time: “We are at home! This is our home.” Although the home was the same, the days marched slowly by in a world that was so different than the one they lived in years gone by.
That was the scenario. During one of our visits they were sitting next to each other, which wasn’t unusual. Because of her Alzheimer’s, Mom couldn’t care for herself, but their caregivers always did an excellent job of keeping her combed, clean and well dressed. That day, she had a pastel colored sweat suit on, and her long white hair was well-combed into a granny-style topknot. Her cheeks were rosy and her smile genuinely sweet, reflecting the contentment that she felt. I commented to Mom on how nice she looked. Dad didn’t miss a beat as he beamed from ear to ear and emphatically declared: “SHE’S MY PRINCESS!”
Dad probably never knew it, but tears welled up in my eyes. It wasn’t “Sweetest Day”, yet they were still very much in love. I still choke back the tears as I remember what a meaningful lesson that they taught me that day on the solid, “I’ll always love you no matter what” kind of love he showed Mom, and the serenity in her eyes as she silently smiled, resting in that assurance.