They held hands.
Not in the way they used to, of course.
Her hair was curled—a white a-line bob. Crows feet framed her eyes. “He’s an ornery man,” she said. I wasn’t sure if the wrinkles were from years of joy or months of pain.
And then tried to spit.
But that strong, 6-foot-2-inch man was no longer coordinated enough to even expectorate his own sputum. In more ways than one, he’d become a child again. Cooing. Gurgling. Pointing. Pulling at his gown, then her jacket, then the tubes and lines and electrode’s.
The words I imagine she once used in adoration toward the father of her children, words like “strong”, “handsome”, “helpful”, “leader” had turned into something entirely different.
“Isn’t he cute?”, she giggled, “…just adorable.”
And if I didn’t know better, I might have guessed she was talking about her grandchildren—the ones who never knew their grandfather for the strong, handsome, helpful leader he was.
It hit him hard about five years ago. And to everyone’s surprise, he made his way into the Emergency Room because he “just wasn’t feeling right.” He left with a new diagnosis: Severe Progressive Dementia, Alzheimer’s-type. Low-and-behold, the atrophy had started. Amyloid plaques & neurofibrillary tangles set up house. Then ever-so-slowly and almost instantly, her big, strong husband regressed.
He forgot her birthday.
And then their anniversary.
Eventually, he forgot her.
And that’s when the words changed. The world’s changed, too.
But still, they held hands.
She said no treatments. And he couldn’t move his right side. Paralyzed, both of them—one by a stroke & the other by the stinging pain of love. She filled out the bright green form:
We disconnected the fluids. Took off monitor stickers that were so bothersome in the first place. The medicines were stopped, Hospice was started. And we waited. She waited. And he kept on grunting.
All the while, they held hands.
I saw those crows-feet again. And I knew. I knew they weren’t from pain. Or joy. Or even age.
They were from LOVE.
And it was then that I realized: love really is choosing the highest good for the other.
Even if sometimes, it means calling them cute, holding their hand, & letting them go…