He heard a noise and knew she had stumbled into something again. It was past midnight, and instead of laying still she was up wandering around the house trying to find God knows what. She was getting worse and he knew it. But the promise he had made 60 years earlier, kept him trying to keep that promise.
He guided her back to the bed where she fell asleep once again. Morning would come soon enough, so he lay down on his bed across the room and tried going back to sleep himself. His mind was reeling with realization that he was not the nurse she needed. So sleep did not come.
During the day he administered her medications when they were due. He saw that she ate. The extent of his cooking was enough to keep them going, but being a farmer that part was always left up to her. He tried new things, and was proud of his accomplishments. He enjoyed watching her eat what he had prepared.
The home health aides came several mornings a week to give her a bath, and straighten through the house. They went beyond their duty, for the couple were easy to love. On alternate days, the Nurse came to make sure she was getting her insulin and to check for sores that weren‘t healing.
It was evident to everyone he was doing his best, although his children along with the home health employees, wondered how long he would be able to hold out before asking for help. Help had been offered, but again the promise he had made sixty years earlier kept him trying to do everything himself with minimal help.
Sarah was a shell of her former self. No doubt she was sick and getting worse each day. The diabetes was getting worse, her heart was bad and age was taking its toll. On good days, she talked about the future and her desire not to ever leave the house she had lived in most of their married life. She feared the nursing home. On good days, she talked with her friends on the phone. On good days she listened to her radio or maybe watched a program on TV with Arthur. But those good days were getting fewer and further between.
He didn’t have to do a lot of thinking on what the future held on these days when things seemed almost normal. It was when his body begged for rest in the wee hours of morning, when she was searching through the house looking for nothing in particular, that with each heart beat he asked himself the same question. “Lord, what am I going to do?”
Each morning when she moved from the bed to her chair, she was greeted with a cup of steaming hot coffee. She would take it in both hands with a “thank you Daddy”, and take a sip. She was unaware that both their sleep had been interrupted because of her roaming. Her breakfast was served shortly. Sometimes she felt like going to the table, but most often she ate at her chair, and at that only ate a few bites. “I’ll eat it later” she always promised.
Weary and tired from days without rest and nights without sleep he was forced to talk to one of his daughters. Martha lived close by. She and her husband had bought the farm and Sarah and Arthur were given rights to live there as long as they could. Her number was the first one on the list above the wall phone in the dining room. He dialed her number and waited for her to answer.
“Martha, can you come up here?” She recognized the weariness along with sadness in his voice, so she told him she would.
On entering the house, Sarah was incoherent. He was afraid. Somewhere in his administering her medication, he had given something to her twice. Once more than he should have. When he learned his error, it was enough to scare him into admitting he needed help.
“I don’t want to send her to a nursing home. I promised God sixty years ago that I would take care of her in sickness and health until death separated us. I just can’t do that to her. It is my responsibility to be there for her!” he wailed.
It was an emotional time for each of them. However, Martha knowing this day would come was gentle in her approach to reason with him in his distraught state of mind. She was careful not to make the decision for him, only to guide him in making his own.
“But Daddy, you would be giving her the best care she could receive by taking her to the nursing home where qualified people will take care of her.”
“But she has begged me not to do that!”
“I know, but you have to do what is best for her. You can go every day and sit with her, eat lunch with her. Us girls will also go, so she won't feel we have abandoned her. You would only be away from her at night when you come home”, Martha gently continued. “And too, if she needed you in the meantime, they would call you.”
He hadn’t thought of it that way; That turning her loose to someone else’s care was actually still taking care of her.
Reluctantly he agreed, so the necessary steps to get her to the health facility were set in order. His tall frame was bent in sobbing, for the inevitable hour had come. He had always carried his age well. One that did not know him would be hard pressed to believe he was 91, but today his weeping was making an “old” man out of him fast. The mental strain he had been under for so long, and the nights without rest had taken their toll.
Naturally she did not want to go. To her, it was accepting she would never come home again. However, he promised her that he would bring her home again. So for awhile with each visit he made, she begged to go home.
Occasionally, on week-ends he did just that. He brought her home for an overnight stay. With each visit home - she started begging to go back home. Eventually, he understood her meaning of “home”. It was where she spent all the days that had grown into weeks. Her room at the nursing home was now “Home”
She got better for awhile. The bright spot of her day was to hear his footsteps from down the hall coming toward her room each morning. Always in his hand was a fried apple pie wrapped in wax paper. He kissed her and said, “I made it especially for you.” He had no thoughts that she was not supposed to eat sweets, and the nurses on duty did nothing to stop him. They could see he was still taking care of her.
“Thank you Daddy”, she whispered, as he settled down into the chair beside her bed. He was keeping the promise he had made 60 years ago.
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This is a very heartfelt story. You've painted a vivid picture with your words of a true-to-life situation many of us will face someday.