Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: MARRIAGE (08/25/16)
- TITLE: The Honeymooners
By Donna Powers
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Benny Kearns was stocky and balding. His joints were stiff, and he walked slowly. He wore a fading work uniform every day, and his last wisps of hair were slicked neatly across the top of his head.
He came to the nursing home every night at dinner time. He sat and waited patiently for someone to bring the dinner tray for his wife, Jennie.
Jennie had Alzheimer's. She lost her memory five years before this happened and had gradually stopped talking. Her eyes had become vacant, and she didn't react to anything or anyone.
Benny fed Jennie, one spoonful at a time. She could have been eating anything – and being fed by anyone, if you judged by her lack of reaction.
As he fed her, Benny talked to Jennie. He talked about the weather, about upcoming holidays, and about their six children. He told her how much he loved her. The flatness in Jennie's eyes never wavered.
When Jennie finished eating, Benny waited for an aide to wheel her to her bedroom, and help her into bed. Then, he placed his hand over hers until she went to sleep. Then he went home.
I admired Benny's dedication, but anyone could've seen the physical and emotional toll it took on him. I can't imagine anyone would have looked askance if he were to visit less often.
One evening, a local church began having weekly services, and Benny took Jennie to church. A few minutes later, Benny came to the nurses' station, looking both joyful and scared. “Come see this, Nurse,” he urged me.
I followed him into the service and couldn't believe what I saw: Jennie's eyes open and alert. Even more surprisingly, she was singing the hymn – without a glance at the hymnal.
“She's like her old self,” Benny marveled. “As soon as the hymn started, it was like she woke up. I guess... well, she used to be in our church choir, so maybe she remembers.”
I'd seen other Alzheimer's patients remember things from their past, but this was uncanny – and I told him so. Smiling, he joined her and watched as she sang.
After the service, he told me it had only happened during the singing. During the rest of the service, Jennie had been her silent self.
Yet, Jennie's singing gave Benny hope. “It was like I had her back. Maybe someday...” Benny didn't finish, but he didn't have to.
Benny kept trying. In addition to the church services, Benny bought a tape player and brought recorded hymns. Jennie perked up, sang along, but the light faded back out of her eyes once the songs stopped.
So.. how long did Benny keep visiting Jennie? Well, that's the best part of the story. One evening I went in to check on Jennie. The radio was on, and she'd been singing. But on that night, I saw her suddenly turn to Benny. For the first time in five years, she recognized him.
“Benny!” she cried. She had the look of a bride.
“Oh, Jennie,” he answered. They looked into each other's eyes, and reached out and took his hand. She smiled a smile of pure love and leaned forward for a kiss.
Benny leaned right back, and kissed her. His face was glowing with joy, and tears streamed slowly down his cheeks. Jennie's smile never wavered as she held out her arms for a tender hug. Slowly, though, the light of recognition began to fade from Jennie's eyes, and her expression became wooden again. But she didn't let go of his hand.
Benny sighed and sat back down in his chair to wait – as always - for her to go to sleep.
I tiptoed out of the room, to give them some privacy. It was a busy evening, and I didn't have a chance to check on Jennie again until the end of the shift.
When I walked into the room, I was amazed to see Benny still there – and still holding her hand. But when I looked closer, I realized they had both stopped breathing, hours before.
There was a newlywed smile on both their faces.
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