In the more than twelve years my mother suffered with the disease, my father refused to leave her side. He cared for her in their home until the battle nearly broke his own health. Then he unflinchingly agreed to sell his beloved home and move in with his children, where he and Mom could receive more support.
Later, as Mom continued to decline, he relinquished his “right” to move into an independent living home, but chose instead to live with my mother in a small residential facility for those with Alzheimer’s. She was seldom out of his sight.
There were many things about Mom’s Alzheimer’s Dad struggled to understand. Why a “good Christian woman” who had scolded her children for saying the word “darn” had developed the vocabulary of a sailor in her golden years. Why a woman who had prepared beautiful meals for her loved ones began eating with her fingers. Why had a woman who had always dressed impeccably had become inclined to disrobe in public. No amount of explanation could answer questions like these in my father’s black-and-white engineer’s mind. The enigmas of neurological disease were not a sufficient answer.
All my father ever wanted during those years my mother was ill was to be at her side and ease her suffering. His greatest joy was to hold her hand as he sat or walked beside her.
Then came the day when a hospice nurse called me aside and told me what I already knew. My mother’s gait had become increasingly unstable. She had to be walked slowly and steadily, always in the company of someone who understood how to match her halting and wavering pace. But my father, in his unswerving belief that he could encourage Mom to get better, sometimes tugged her when she balked. Hospice nurses told us we would have to tell him that for Mom’s safety, he could no longer hold her hand and walk her.
I could barely hold back the tears as the hospice nurse broke the news to my father in the most gracious way possible. He stood silent and never asked a single question before he turned away.
For my mother’s safety, we tried to honor the request. But as family members, we also were compelled to honor my father’s commitment to his wife and our mother. Over the next months, caregivers walked my other each day. But as often as possible, dad also walked Mom with her too, clinging to her hand as he always had, while a family member steadied her on the other.
Thank you, Dad, for teaching us to lean into the arms of those we love in our times of loss.