Hello again. 2017 has officially come to a close. I hope everyone has had time to reflect on the good, the extraordinary and the wonderful things this year has brought to you. I wanted to share with you (whoever you are that's reading this - hi mom!) a glimpse of what true love looks like in the "til death do you part" stage of life. We all have an idea of what it looks and feels like, and we all want it. This true love is thought to be the secret key to a life well lived. I'll begin by saying that it's an extremely rare sight to witness, much less be part of.
I'm fortunate enough to have witnessed what true love is. My grandparents, Lee and Barbara, first met as kids when my grandmother first moved to a new neighborhood in Rochester, NY. The same neighborhood where my grandfather had lived and was an active "neighborhood boy" who would play touch football outside in the neighborhood streets (you know, back in the day when kids could go outside without adults). Their first encounter wasn't exactly love at first sight. My grandfather, at the time was around 14, ran up my grandmother's father's new car to catch a football that was thrown his way. He made the catch, but also earned himself a scolding from my grandmother, approximately age 12. "Get off my father's car before you break something!" she screamed at him. "Shut up, Fatso!" he replied.
See? True love doesn't lie to you even at the first encounter.
They grew up in the same neighborhood for several years to come and kept similar friend circles, but just like most of the country in the mid-1950's my grandfather enlisted in the Marines and was shipped off to fight in the Korean war. They casually dated before he was enlisted, and my grandmother wrote him everyday while she finished her last year of high school, but it wasn't until one of my grandfather's trips on leave back to Rochester did my grandmother admit to herself (and to my grandfather) that she was in fact in love with him.
They were married in August 1957, had four daughters, seven grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren to date. Nana was a stay-at-home mom, as well as CFO of my grandfather's family-owed business (bookkeeper is such a poor description of what she actually did - it's 2018, let's call it what it really is, mmmmkay?). Papa worked open to close at his service station before finally making enough money to hire employees to help run the business several years into their marriage. In his spare time he volunteered at the nearby fire station, and they both had a love for bowling. They raised their children in a traditional Catholic household, attended countless high school baseball games their daughters starred in, gave more time and money than they could afford to spare to their daughters to help raise their own children as they supported their family through the 4 divorces and two deaths their daughters endured, struggled to lose their business more than once, survived my grandfather's cancer twice, and left everything they grew to know and love to start a new life in retirement in central Florida in 1999.
This past December I traveled to a sleepy retirement community in central Florida for a holiday visit with my grandparents, and also to assist my aunt Jan and grandfather with my grandmother's rapidly declining health. A couple years ago she was unfortunately diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and even though at the time the whole family appeared to be in denial, including my grandmother who just chuckled off forgetting parts of stories or names with a "forgive me, I have the forgetful disease", we all knew this point in the journey would come and brace ourselves for our hearts to break over time.
It didn't take very long at all for the disease to take Nana's mind away from us. For instance, in June she was able to have full conversations, remember (most) of her grandchildren's names, remember new introductions she had just made and recall stories to tell. By September she wasn't able to form full sentences, mostly used facial expressions to communicate her mood, and for the first time in my life I saw my grandmother without her teeth. She was however, somehow able to dance at my cousin's wedding with the bride for a brief moment. It was fairly odd, too. My aunts were helping her stand up and she led them to the dance floor to join Stephany for a half of a song. It was the only time she left her seat the entire reception.
This past winter my Nana had become bed ridden in a hospital bed placed in the center of the living room in her home, her communication had become for the most part non-verbal and she would require round the clock care mostly provided by my aunt Jan, grandfather and hospice workers that stop in for about an hour each day. My grandfather would ask her questions to trigger her memory, such as "What's your name, Barbara?", "Who am I?", "Do you recognize where you are?".
Nana would respond with grunts, moans and the occasional verbal answer. When she did call out for someone it was for my grandfather. "Did my husband ever make it home?" she asked me. Papa then leaned forward on the couch to smile and make eye contact with her. He waved and said "Hello, beautiful. I'm right here, did you miss me?". He fed her, dressed her, made sure her pills were in order, made phone calls to her doctors, sang to her, and spoke to her knowing that the love of his life was still in that cloudy mind of hers. My grandfather has never been an overly affectionate spouse or father from my understanding. Seeing him be on call at 2 o'clock in the morning and all throughout the night for my grandmother; stroking her back, rubbing her feet, re-positioning her to give her more comfort all day and night at every motion or sound that she made - I'm now convinced that their private life held significantly more love than their public life. He could sooth her when she cried out of confusion, ensure that she ate or drank before he even fixed his plate and would be who she cried out for on most occasions. He insisted that she stay in their home to receive the best care she can have, because she would be cared for with love at home, that wouldn't be guaranteed in a nursing home.
I took these photos not to remember the heartbreaking and difficult times in my family, but to share the imagery of what true love for one person can have for another looks like in the later stages of life. We all know what the wedding day looks like when vows are exchanged: a picture perfect day with two picture perfect people in front of the camera who have no idea of the obstacles that life will truly bring them that will continuously test their love for one another. We all desire that love of our life to have and hold, for better or worse, in sickness and health...til death do us part.
The following photos are my only proof that true love is not a myth. That is does exist. It only takes 60 years of practice to perfect.