Today is my parents’ 65th wedding anniversary. I wish I could say it was a day of unfettered celebration but for my family it is a day of reflection and some sadness. You see, my mother is in the final stage of Alzheimer’s Disease.
I have discovered than when I speak honestly about Alzheimer’s people join the conversation knowingly. With the aging of the baby boomers, it’s devastation visits more and more people. It is a shared experience with an evil and relentless disease.
While I am my own worse timekeeper, I am pretty sure that my mother has not known who I am for 3 years or more. I can recall the first hints that the disease was visiting her almost a decade ago. The changes in my mom with each of my visits were shocking. Each time I saw her she had disappeared more.
I have not lived close to my family since I was 19 years old. My brother, who raised a terrific family in the desert, lives close by our parents. Dad and Mike are the ones who have taken the brunt of the caretaking. Our folks worked hard and were frugal, so they have means for mom to have the best care available. I know that for my dad making sure that Dot always had the best care is something that has given him great solace. And, I know that our ability to do that is relatively rare. The impact of dementia on families of less means is shattering.
Jim and Dot Blackwood fell in love in high school and married soon after graduating. They had my brother and I young, which is why both Mike and I can be retired with parents in their early 80’s. It also means that, should your parents stay healthy, you get to know them for a long time. Mike and I have been blessed in this.
Couples don’t get to 65 years of marriage without trials. The great couples weather the awful moments in life and flourish. Our folks travelled widely and shared a thousand experiences. But with each visit what always amazed me the most about my parents is the almost coded language they shared until my mom’s mind faded away. The shared looks. The funny way they tolerated each other’s weaknesses with knowing eye-rolls. And the gentle celebrations in the way they touched each other or shared mischievous laughs.
And here’s the most remarkable thing. My dad has maintained all of that for both of them over the last few years. From the caretaking while she was still at home to the twice daily trips down the road to see her for both lunch and dinner he has never given up on them, the two of them as one. Oh, certainly there is melancholy and loss, but he comes to her each day faithfully believing that small parts of her are still in there somewhere and he will honor that until she is no longer with us.
My dad said last week that, Lord willing the creek don’t rise, maybe it’s mom’s plan to be here for their 65th anniversary and that he would bring her a cake decorated with their names and 65th on it. Well, that’s what he and my brother did today. Today, we celebrated. I am so proud the genetic lottery gave me these parents. Their steadfastness in life and in the dimming of life sets a very high bar for the rest us.
Mom and Dad, I love you. Happy Anniversary…..Jimmy