Thursday, February 27, 2014

Love Endures Despite Dementia and Loss of the Loved One

Mom and Dad, 1946
Photographer unknown
On my father's side, the men only love once. And once they wed, they stand by their choice forever.

Country Sweethearts
Dad's parents were childhood sweethearts who lived on neighboring farms in rural Oklahoma. They grew up alongside each other, had the same friends, went to the same school. In 1923, at age 18 they got married. They stayed together 66 years, until the morning that Grandpa got out of bed one morning and his heart stopped. Nothing else could have put an end to their union - it probably would not have occurred to them to even consider splitting up. They were strong on family.

With little more than a grade school education, they worked hard, survived the Great Depression, and raised two sons. Both of my grandparents took extra job training so they could advance in their workplaces. They encouraged their boys to get a good education and find secure jobs. After Dad's parents retired, they moved back to a farm in Oklahoma and realized their dream of owning their own property. Neither of them really ever stopped working, but they enjoyed everything that they chose to do.

City Sweethearts
My parents grew up just two city blocks from each other. Their families were very different and didn't know each other at all. Dad served in the SeaBees during World War II and didn't meet Mom until after he returned from overseas. They didn't realize it until later, but my father had been throwing the newspaper for Mom's family for years. He just never paid attention to that "skinny, fat-faced little girl" that grew up to be his wife. But when she was 19 and he was 21, they met while walking along the railroad tracks that passed alongside both their homes. He was tall, tan, muscular, and had his own car - something that many postwar men his age didn't have. She was blonde, slender, curvy, and looking for security. After about three weeks of courting - much of which was assisted by that car - they married in December of 1946.

Mom and Dad had many differences. He was easy-going and agreeable, she was more withdrawn and paranoid. My father wanted his wife to settle down, have kids, and let him support her. She wanted to have a career and work. That discussion went on for 10 years, until I was born. And 6 years later, my sister came into the family. My folks argued over money, food, time, and relationships with relatives. My sister and I tried to stay out of these discussions. Dad kept believing that everything would work out. Mom kept wanting more and different things than Dad understood or believed was necessary. In short, Mom didn't treat my Dad well. Despite this, they stayed married for 60 years, until she passed away.

Love, Hope, and Grief That Won't Quit
Dad had started to have problems with short-term memory before Mom died. When she knew that the lymphoma that had invaded her body was going to take her life, she wanted to make sure that somebody would take care of Dad. My sister, who was on the scene during Mom's last months on earth, says that Mom grew sweeter towards the end, even towards Dad. Mom made my sister promise that Dad would be taken care of, and she did. Finally, 8 years ago, my mother passed away.

With dementia, the short-term memory deteriorates first. When Dad came to stay with me 7 years ago, he remembered much more about Mom than he does now. Mercifully, the things that remain in his memories of Mom are mostly positive. The hurtful things that happened have been lost from his mental record. He no longer recognizes her when he looks at the most recent photos of Mom, but when he sees one from 1946, he knows her instantly. He is always surprised to hear that she has been gone 8 years! Even if I tell him that sad fact 40 times daily, his grief and amazement are fresh each time. One thing helps: we get out photos of the early days of their life and he never tires of those images. Thank goodness that Mom made those precious photo albums, pictures of young sweethearts pasted on the black pages of old folios, with captions hand-written in white ink. There, the dates never change, the wrinkles never set in, and the smiles never fade. Dad has only loved once, and he finds her there, every day.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave me a note!