As I travel around the country speaking about caregiving and Alzheimer’s, I often hear the most heartwarming stories about late-in-life love. Visiting an Adult Day Care Center last year, I observed a group of seniors (with mild dementia) getting ready for their afternoon walk. A lovely lady with the rosiest cheeks and name to match, Rose (80-ish), gushed as she pointed out her new boyfriend to me, whispering about their budding romance and completely giddy about how wonderful he was.
Still handsome at 87, Alfred grinned ear-to-ear, tipped his cowboy hat and carefully helped with her coat, all the while gazing lovingly into her aged eyes. I took the time to walk with them, just to be able to savor their joy. It was plain as day that they were as smitten as any teenagers in the first blush of love.
I instantly flashed back to the lovebirds of my high school, Tom and Carol, who shared their locker below mine and who were so in love, always leaning against the lockers gazing into each other’s longing eyes, oblivious to the world. I remember feeling bad if I had to interrupt their trance to get something out of my locker-while secretly longing for a boyfriend who would look at me that way.
My parents were lovebirds too-from the moment they met as my mother walked down the street in her polka dot dress-and onward through many stormy seasons for sixty years. And even though my father had a volatile temper, I know my beautiful mother never looked at another man her entire life. Once as a young adult trying to sort out my own love-life drama, I asked how long she had been deeply in love with Dad, and how long every time she looked at him-he just made her heart skip a beat. She smiled fondly as she recalled, “Ohhh, for about twenty years at that intense level, I guess-but now it only skips a beat every other time.”
My father adored her and was always so protective, and even though in their later years she was in a wheelchair and on oxygen, when their Day Care encouraged the group to dance to Tony Bennett, my father would pull aside the activity director and whisper, “Now be sure you don’t let any of the other men try to dance with my Mariel.”
On my parents’ 58th wedding anniversary, I asked if they’d like to have a party or if there was anything special they’d like to do that day. They both said no, they simply wanted to stay home from Day Care, in their own bed where they could cuddle and kiss-as they so frequently did. It warmed my heart to hear my father say, “I love you so much, Mariel-I always have-and I always will.” She repeated it back to him-and I am so grateful that even though they were going downhill from Alzheimer’s, their ability to express their love for each other, and for me-never faded away.
After nearly a year of taking care of my parents myself, I finally found a wonderful live-in caregiver, “Amazing Ariana,” who became a big part of our family. We spoke several times a day and one evening she called giggling. “Jacqueline, I gave your father his favorite snack, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, right after they came home from Day Care today-and I just went into their bedroom to get them up for dinner and you won’t believe what I found on your mother’s chest?”
“Oh my goshhh-you’ve got to be kidding! Well… I hope it was smooth and not chunky!”
We howled about it, but then I wondered if it was just my father’s dementia and he really didn’t realize what he was doing. Ariana said, “Nooo, they were really laughing about it and when I asked your mother if it was okay with her, she giggled like a schoolgirl and said she didn’t mind a bit!”
I found it quite cute and actually very comforting to know-that their need to love and express it (even with peanut butter) might not have to fade away just yet-simply because their minds and bodies were.
You can learn more about Jacqueline and find information about her book at ElderRage.com.
Published On: February 14, 2007