So old, so tired - a century of days! Wisps of thin, silver hair lifting in response to the ceiling fan – back and shoulders rounded and stooped that used to be as straight and strong as the horses he once rode. Eyes clouded with diminished vision – memories barely clinging to a mind once sharp and vibrant enough to speak wisdom and knowledge before politicians and courts of law – this caliber of a man that still evoked awe and respect.
“I’ve lived too long,” he said to me - or to himself, I was never sure. His resignation to what his life had become was obvious to the observer by the weariness of his posture and countenance. Not many live for100 years.
“Just think, if you live until 2000, you will have seen three different centuries.”
“Why would I want to do that?” he responded to me, in a voice still strong, but with a depth of sadness and longing that brought tears to my eyes.
I lightly touched his shoulder, signaling that it was time to go to breakfast. He slowly and laboriously pulled himself upright, grabbing the sides of the walker. Keeping my arm entwined through his, we made our way to the dining hall.
I imagined him in times past, briskly walking into a room, his body strong and confident and bold, declaring him to be a man of authority - his persona, his aura speaking volumes before his mouth ever opened. Now those that looked upon him noted his frailty, cautiously observant for any sign that he may stumble or his knees buckle, ever alert to help him if needed.
After maneuvering him to his seat at the dining table, my hand guided his trembling hand to his mouth with the usual morning cereal. Out of habit, he leaned towards the empty chair next to him where his wife always sat, and then remembering, his shoulders drooped even lower. She had passed on recently. She was 98, more agile and spry than he, but suffered from Alzheimer’s.
In the 18 months I worked as their caregiver, I never heard them say “I love you,” although their gestures and demeanor spoke of a deep, abiding love. They always touched, held hands, stroked each other’s face or fingers, leaned in towards one another, and smiled at each other frequently. After over 70 years of marriage, their faces still lit up when they saw each other. She could not remember her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, or me from day to day, but she always knew he was her husband and never forgot his name. It was the mercy and grace and goodness of God, he would say.
She would read aloud from Psalms every morning, her eyesight still keen. With thin, blue-veined hands, she would turn the pages of her bible, her body bending forward as close as she could, conveying an excitement and urgency to read The Word. She would slowly and with precise diction read several verses, and then tenderly close her bible after carefully marking her place with the thin scarlet ribbon.
He would then hold up his right hand, signifying that he had heard, and it was a good Word. She would smile contentedly and lean back into her cushioned chair. Almost simultaneously their hands would breach the distance separating their chairs, touch momentarily, for momentarily was all the strength they had, then drop and be brought to rest at their sides again.
Bodies that had once danced as lovers, and embraced in intimate passion, now needed help with the most basic and menial of physical care. Yet in the waning years of their lives, with bodies withered and frail, they still communicated their love for each other through touch and gestures that went beyond the spoken word.
He died at 102 years old, quite surprisingly living two more years after her. I lamented to my husband that I never took the opportunity to tell them that I loved them, that it was not just a job, but an honor and blessing to have been in their presence, to have the love that they felt for each other somehow spill over and touch me.
My husband, a wise man, said “There are ways besides words that speak how we feel. They knew you cared.”
Note: Although this isn’t the typical view of “body language”, it was a blessing to know this marvelous couple who gave much to early Arizona.
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