Grandpa was thirty minutes away from his bride of over fifty-five years when Grandma came to live with us. He called her to see how she was and made plans to come get her. It was painful to watch her try to talk to him over the phone. She was so hard of hearing that it was almost impossible for her to hear him. She would just say his name over and over, as if she was lost and was begging for him to come and find her. He wanted to take her out. No big deal, right? But she was completely helpless with Alzheimer's and every time there was a change of scenery she seemed to become more confused; the dots were farther apart to try to connect.
Now that I think of it one of us should have helped them to managed their marriage. We should have tried harder to keep them together as much as possible. But who would've done that? Who had time? Who at that point even had the insight to understand the needs of a realtionship for my grandparents in their late eighties? We were still winging it. We were working, care-giving, and growing up all at the same time.
Grandpa called Grandma on the phone, picked her up, and took her out for a while. He must've missed her terribly even with Alzheimer's in the way. Alzheimer's was right there between them. All of us as her new care-givers were sort of in the middle of them too. Grandpa had to schedule with his son's wife just to see his own wife. It was uncomfortable. What were the options? There was no way he wanted to come live with us too. I suppose he could have but nobody talked about it. We didn't really plan in advance for Grandma to come live with us so there was no plan for the two of them as a couple. Besides, Grandpa needed a break from Alzheimer's after managing for so long on his own.
So Grandpa sort of dated all of us. He brought Grandma home after their dates and mom took her upstairs. Grandpa handed out a bag of Hershey miniature chocolates for us to pass around the table and snack on while we spent some time with him before he needed to head back to his house. He sat there with his hat on, his shoulders hunched over a bit and talked with us. One time he told us about a horse he had when he was a kid that got loose. I never knew he even had a horse. Then it would be time for him to go home. Grandpa would get tears in his eyes as he stood up to leave and slipped on his coat. Each of us kids gave him a hug. I was usually last, trying to get over my shyness to approach him. I was eighteen but it was only over the past year or so that we had begun hugging him good-bye. And there it was again the silver lining to all of this craziness with Alzheimer's. We had more opportunities to show love to Grandpa. He needed us too.
As I write this it's the day after Valentine's Day and it seems sort of depressing to think of a couple facing their last years together dealing with Alzheimer's. The flip side of that is love. My grandparents truly loved each other. They met in a single's church group, dated, got married, traveled, had children during the war years, made a home together, pursued hobbies together, celebrated holidays with their children and grandchildren. Their lives were not separate but knit together as one. Isn't that the kind of love we all want? Even with Alzheimer's Disease destroying her brain my grandmother spoke his name over and over. He was still the person she wanted most. When miles separated them they still wanted to be together, even though her Alzheimer's was standing in the way. Their love held strong to the end.