Near the end of my mother’s lucidity, as we were having the difficult conversation about me taking over her care, she was both saddened and puzzled by the cruelties of old age.
She said, “In my mind, I’ve always felt like a young girl”.
It was the truth.
The other true thing was that she only wanted to be Dad’s girl.
My parents started dating when they were teenagers and neither of them ever had another interest. Mom was 18 when they married and she was 80 when Dad died.
A marriage of 62 years seems long by any standard, but they would have gladly taken 62 more. Only the Second World War could keep them apart, and I still have all of the letters they wrote to each other because mom saved them all.
I’ve never seen two people more devoted, more sincere and more goofily in love. They lived large and it was all about swallowing their life together in big thirsty gulps.
A stroke left my Dad helpless for the last 10 years of his life. He was physically dependent on her in every way. He fought to get better at first but eventually recused himself in resignation.
Mom was undaunted.
She had a stubbornness that clashed with my own, but I now know that God gave her that gift in reserve for those last years of Dad’s life.
She took over the finances, bought a handicap van and continued their active schedule of church, visits to friends and out of state vacations. She dressed Dad for company every day and made sure he was included in the conversation. She was thin and frail, but she never blinked at the physical demands of his mobility and care.
It was humbling to watch.
On the day my father passed away, I held his hand as he drew his final breath with my wife at my side and his wife at his – right where she was always.
When Dad died, Mom did too.
Oh, her body retained breath for 4 more years, but she was not present. The doctors called it Alzheimer’s but the truth is, Mom just stood inside her body and looked out of those blue eyes at a world without my father – then she turned around and walked away to the inside of her mind to sit among her memories.
I went to see Mom in the hospice the day before she died. When I arrived she was being fed by a worker, and she no longer thought I was her brother or father or high school teacher.
She simply wasn’t there.
My aunt called the next day saying Mom died peacefully in her sleep.
I knew the truth.
That night, her workers cleaned her and put her to bed, and there she closed her eyes. She opened them again at 2 in the morning when a strapping young man walked into her room and took his 18-year-old bride by the hand, and the young girl jumped into his arms.