My parents missed out on celebrating their Golden Wedding Anniversary as many of my friends’ parents have been blessed to do this year. Their 34th anniversary was actually the last one they celebrated together because my Dad, Art died in 1986.
My Mother is 82. This smart, funny, and oh, so wise woman now lives in a care facility due to rapidly progressing dementia. Her short-term memory is completely gone. Confusion is pretty constant. Sometimes she is frustrated with her “remember-er” that doesn’t quite work right. Her life events are in a jumbled order. Overall, she is content and pleasant despite things being foggy for her.
One thing she remembers very clearly, however, is being madly in love with Art. She has a large framed photo of him, the love of her life, her Sweetie Pie. She hugs the photo and remarks about how crazy she was about him. She loved him with a heart and a half, she says.
I love to hear the story of how she met the love of her life. The thing about her dementia is, I can ask her the same questions every day, and it is like the first time she has heard them. She never tires of telling the story:
She was working as a nurse at a Catholic Hospital. She was from the South Side, a Presbyterian not Catholic. Her fellow nurses were graduates of the Catholic High School. One day, she overheard them talking about a tonsillectomy patient they knew. Obviously, this was long before the existence of HIPPA. Surely, they must have been talking about how handsome he was, because she immediately went into the patient’s room and introduced herself. She liked him right away.
Eventually, he asked for her number. How confident he must have been, asking for her number while lying there wearing a hospital gown! Once discharged, he called her and asked for a date. Her mother thought this was inappropriate and told her she couldn’t go. After all, she was dating a fellow named Ned. Ned drove a convertible and happened to be a fantastic dancer, my Mother remembers.
A week later, Art was readmitted to the hospital with complications. Mom was “floating” – working where needed in the hospital. As fate would have it, she was assigned to the floor he was admitted to, and was his nurse. This time, he went home and told his mother he’d met the cutest little nurse with the prettiest brown eyes. My mother went home and broke it off with poor Ned. Art again asked her out, and this time she said yes.
I continue to ask, “What happened next, Mom?”
She recounts the events of 1950 in vivid detail:
Their first date was a picnic.
He was romantic.
She met his parents, Bill & Georgia.
They lived on Crescent
His brother Don was really young, only 10.
“What happened next, Mom?”
Lately, she replies, “Well, we went our separate ways. We never married or had children or anything. Boy, I sure would like to see him again!”
WOW! So in my Mother’s mind, Art is the one who got away!
In reality, the first weekend they went out, they knew they would marry, and he proposed just 2 weeks after their first date. She joined the Catholic Church and in 1951, they married.
They enjoyed 34 happy years together. Believe me, when I say, my parents were happy together. They really never argued. Oh, to be sure, he pissed her off occasionally, especially if he messed with her cooking. He was known to sneak lemon flavoring into any baking recipe and added way too much black pepper to anything anyone was cooking. Funny, though, I don’t recall him ever being even the least bit miffed at her.
She has no memory of Art being the father of her five children. This is confounding to me, because at least for now, she still knows all her children and their spouses by name, as well as her grandchildren and their spouses, for that matter. Dementia is a puzzle.
You might think it would be sad to realize that she has no memory of her life with my Dad, or the fact that she has no memory of who our Father is. However, I’m a glass-half-full-silver-lining-look-at-the-bright-side-kind-of-girl. So for me, the fact that this huge chunk of her life has completely disappeared from her memory is not entirely sad. I have found an upside.
The beauty of dementia is that for my mother, the pain has all disappeared. The sudden and tragic loss of my Dad at the age of 54, is forgotten. This event that shook and forever changed our family doesn’t exist for her. The loneliness of being the “first” widow isn’t even a distant memory. She doesn’t reflect on missing out on the joy of retirement with my Dad. For her there is no bitter, only sweet.
Many long-married couples have to make an effort to keep the so-called magic alive. Even some young couples struggle to remember the spark that originally ignited their courtship. Not so for my Mother. All she has is the memory of the spark, the romance and of course, the love. While she may not know today is her 61st wedding anniversary, or be able to remember it, no matter how many times she is told; she is a living example of the POWER of love. As cliché as it may sound, when all is said and done, really, all that remains is the love. We know love never dies. Through my mother, I have learned it will NOT be forgotten.
“Did you ever meet him, the big guy?” She asks.
I tell her that I did meet him, and I do remember him. And then, as I tell her I really do think she will see the love of her life again one day…selfishly, I silently hope it is not too terribly soon.