I remember how you loved to lie down in that ugly, green sofa for an afternoon nap, and as the years began to age you, your naps there grew longer until one day, you fell asleep and didn’t wake up. I never liked that shade of green, and the whole thing of it was that the couch seemed a little fuzzy, as something born out of the seventies. Still, no one disturbs a queen who sits on a velvet thrown, even if that shade of red doesn’t quite become her. You could have made any shade among the color scheme fit you peacefully with the way you smiled that sly smile in your sleep.
Eyes closed and perhaps even an occasional air of heavy breathing that flirted with snoring suggested you were soundly counting sheep, and there on that couch and resting, no one would know about the Alzheimer’s slowly working its plague against your clock. While the secondhand ticked louder and louder, those aching fingers I once held with the hope to make you mine, I now held in hope that you would simply remember. It’s a wishful and a hopeless hope, but hope, after all, is sometimes all that keeps any us going.
It’s in those moments when that sly smile might grace your façade that I might have had myself convinced that you remembered everything. Hours on end, and I would watch and remember the littlest details you could not, and your lack of memory forced me to hold onto every moment in my own aging realm with such great clarity – the end of the war and me returning to your arms so ready for marriage; that day we went fishing, and you pushed me into the water as a joke; our dear, beautiful children and the very moment I carried the little ones straight to your reach (God, if you could just remember their names!). Some part of me needed to believe and still believes that it was those moments, those hours of naps, where that sly smile was dreaming of what you could not remember when you were awake.
“You need to get Hospice Care, Daddy,” the children ranted on and on about these things so often, so convinced they were that I could not take care of you. “What,” they might say, “can a seventy-eight year old do to help a seventy-two year old?” …but five a.m., every morning, and sometimes, though it killed me, the pain you were in – the pain we were both in – I welcomed every waking hour I had to stare into those big, green eyes (though perhaps blank in some ways). I guess when you’re on the verge of losing loved ones, you realize the preciousness of everything about them, the preciousness of life. You didn’t know me, but you knew the way my brown eyes met yours that I was a good man, the best I could be, and after all, I’ve tried so, so hard (not always getting it right, I’m afraid). No matter how confusing things must’ve gotten for you, I could just stare into those big, green eyes for hours, and some part of both of us had to be believing in something greater than us to keep the day going without shear disaster.
Oh my, and how hard it was just to get you to eat one spoonful of breakfast! We would fight over it for entire mornings, and sometimes, it was tough to understand what good I was doing keeping you alive by forcing you to eat. Who was I pleasing? Myself? The kids didn’t know how I did it each day, and I suppose, looking back on it now, I’m not sure I know either. We just took one day at a time, didn’t we, Sweety, because that was life, and we were supposed to live it, so I did what I was supposed to do. Yet here I am, writing all of this, a few years since you passed have gone by, and they probably wouldn’t understand how I could miss someone who knew and loved me for the first fifty years of our life together, and then the last ten were such a blur. Sure, they might have thought, “Well, of course he loved her; they were together for fifty years before she lost her mind!” …but it wasn’t the fifty years. Little do they know, I discovered how much I loved you most in those blurry years. I guess real love loves the most when it has to; when it’s called to stand up in the arms of devotion; when you choose to do what’s hardest, after all. …and I probably remained more amazed than anyone that I found my purpose in taking care of you.
I still keep that green couch around, though, and on occasion, I think about you and that sly smile. I think about taking my own nap and forgetting the things I’ve seen in this world for something a good bit better, and on nights, when I lie down to sleep, I dream my own dreams (of us in happier times remembered). My task, my obligation, my devoted belonging all seemed to pass on when you did. My purpose has been fulfilled these many years now, or so I thought. Yet, for all those out there who just don’t get it. It wasn’t about your pretty face (which, amazingly, only got prettier in time). It wasn’t about how you made me feel, because woman, you sure knew how to piss me off sometimes (though, amazingly, always forgave me for my temper). It wasn’t even about your wonderful, beautiful personality (though even that personality remained in those blurry days, and if it weren’t for that God-given laugh you laughed, I might have passed on before you did of weariness). It was a lot simpler than that. It was about family – who I was, who we were…together…as one…making the hard, but right choices. …and all the while, God was urging me on to be a better person, because of you and who you were.
…and now that I’ve said that, now that you know that love is so much more than the movies and the romance, that it isn’t always easy…I think I may go lie down for a short nap. There’s a sly smile I’d like to see, whether in my dreams or in some life beyond this one.