My parents would be celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary today, had this disease not stolen my mother from us over seven years ago, after her ten year battle with Alzheimer's. Within months of Mom's diagnosis, we were faced with the same unimaginable diagnosis for my dad.
I was warned early on they would likely forget one another - that Mom quite possibly would become afraid of the stranger in her bed.Tragically, this is a heartbreaking reality for too many victims of Alzheimer's disease. I consider the mercy and grace in which my parents' love story was written, despite this disease, to be one of our most treasured gifts.
As a tribute to their everlasting love, I share their story here.
The Oak Tree
The air was crisp and fresh under the shade of the Oak tree. Daffodils were beginning to bloom and green blades of grass were poking through the barren, brown grass of winter. A new chapter of fresh beginnings was welcomed by the first signs of spring. The young couple sat on the stone bench, dreaming dreams and making promises.
A year earlier they had agreed to double date with friends. Although they had attended high school together, they had not known each other well. The young man, tall and handsome, was back for the summer from a University on the East coast. The beautiful young woman was working her way through college in their Midwestern hometown. By the end of the summer, their love bloomed.
The quiet, sweet, articulate girl won over the charming, witty, young man. Sundays after church were spent getting to know her family and enjoying her mother’s wonderful meals. He tested his skill at dominos under the old Pecan tree in the backyard with this beautiful woman’s father and competitive brothers.
She enjoyed long drives in this endearing man’s car, picnicking at the lake, and discussing the future. He determined he could not live without her and transferred to a nearby University the next semester. It wasn’t long before they were dreaming dreams and making promises only the commitment and determination of love can keep.
Under the shade of the Oak tree he told her dreams of traveling the world. He promised to love her forever as they planned their wedding, a life together, discussed children, and the future. Hand in hand, they began their life together. Step by step, they walked their amazing journey, realizing dreams, and enduring disappointments.
Grief never anticipated was shared; heartache no one could have imagined was experienced. Eventually, the young man kept one of his most fervent promises. Together, over many years, they traveled the world, visiting every continent on Earth. This couple made lifelong friends and brought joy and humor to the lives of others. They made a difference in the world together.
A short drive away in the city, a confident elderly woman noticed a handsome, distinguished man, a resident of her retirement community. It was love at first sight. He, too, was taken by her undeniable qualities and soon they were inseparable.
She was infatuated with his humor and good looks; he was taken with her determination and sweetness. She said he was funny; to the amusement of all, he called her feisty. Although the years stretched out behind them, their love was fresh and new. An enviable love only few find.
When she was stricken with health issues and they had to be apart, she visited him daily. As he noticed her coming up the corridor, his unsteady gait would transform to that of a sprinter. Arms outstretched, heart pounding, as if another moment could not pass without touching her.
When he reached her, he held her, and told her he loved her. “Have you come to see me?” he asked. She smiled as if to say, “Of course I have, you’re the love of my life.” It was as if they had loved each other forever, and if the truth be known, they had. For although life had brought them both joy and sorrow, rejoicing and disappointments, they had one constant.
Through it all, the bond they shared was impenetrable. The disease which inflicted them both had stolen so much, the memories of their travels together, times shared with their children and grandchildren, the history they had together. It had even taken the knowledge of the promises made under the Oak tree when their love was young.
However, there was something even the devastation of Alzheimer’s disease could not touch. The amazing connection between their souls was everlasting. Even through the confusion and theft of the memory of their life together, their bond remained strong.
When she could no longer remember
this man standing in front of her was her husband,
the young man she married fifty-eight years ago,
she simply fell in love with him all over again.
They slept peacefully in their recliners. The cold winter wind blew outside, but warmth surrounded them. Arms outstretched, their hands embraced the love of their beloved as they slept, peaceful and content. The two dreamed their dreams, certain in the end, they all would come true.
Happy 65th Wedding Anniversary, Mom and Dad!
"The Oak Tree" reprinted from
Stone Benches: Understanding the Invisible Footprints of Dementia,
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