As we were about to walk into the nursing home to visit my grandparents for the first time since they’d been there, my son was nervous as to what we were about to see. He put his little arm around my waist and asked if we could pray for them before we went in. I was so proud of him that his instinct in times of trouble is to go to the Lord in prayer.
I thought I was prepared, but there’s really no way to be. I was strong during the visit, but my heart was breaking inside. It seems such a shame that two people whose lives have meant so much to so many have now been reduced to the confines of that nursing home. More than anything, though, it just seems unfair that aging means losing one’s dignity, almost as if reverting to being a child again, unable to take care of one’s self. My grandmother summed it up best when she said, “Once a man, twice a child.”
Ahlzheimer’s is a cruel disease. It’s cruel to the one who has it, but it seems especially cruel to the people who love them. My grandmother only seems forgetful, but I think my grandfather is in the last stages. When we walked into their room, I was afraid he wouldn’t remember me, my husband or children. I had to keep telling myself, though, that it didn’t matter if he remembered me because I remember him.
One image I’ll never get out of my mind was seeing him in his bed, covers up to his neck. The nurse brought the tray in with his breakfast on it, and he looked at the nurse and then looked at my grandmother and asked, “What do I do?” The nurse said, “It’s time to eat your breakfast.” But my grandmother knew what he really meant. She told him, “You have to get your arms out from under the blanket so you can eat.” He had lost that basic of a thought process. As sad as that was, there was something equally tender. After sixty-seven years of marriage, after all the laughter and tears they have shared, she just naturally began to feed him. She didn’t do it out of obligation or as if he were a burden, it was instinct – pure love and totally natural. I remember he told me years ago when he first laid eyes on her, he heard God whisper in his ear, “There’s your help mate.” And so she is.
I know they’ve both had long lives. They’ve both done incredible things with the time God has given them. But with that, it also means we’ve had longer to love them and it will hurt when they’re gone. One thing that I know to be true is no matter how long you have with someone you love, it’s never long enough. You’ll always want at least one more day.
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