"How long are you going to be in there?" she asked in a slightly agitated tone.
"We LIVE here." came the tired reply.
"We do? Since when? I don't live here! I'm not going in. I don't know those people. I'll just wait here in the car."
Whether it's the morning trip for breakfast at McDonalds (she stopped cooking several years ago) or his thrice weekly visit to the physical therapist, or coming back from church, or from his weekly radio program that has aired for 32 years - it's the same scene that plays out every day of the world. He can't leave her home alone, because the cruel disease known as Alzheimer's has long ago robbed her of most of her cognitive ability, and nearly all of her memory.
He is 84, a WWII veteran of the U.S. Navy. After coming back from the war, he answered the call to preach, and had been a bi-vocational pastor and evangelist for 63 years - having retired from his secular job at a local factory way back in 1986. From the 1950's through the 80's he was an extremely busy evangelist, holding two week revival meetings (sometimes as many as 17 or 18 per year) at churches all around the tri state area of WV, KY, and OH. Affable and well liked by many, now his preaching schedule has been reduced to the Saturday afternoon radio program, a homecoming service here and there, and an occasional call to fill a pulpit in a pastor's absence. Due to a major back surgery three years ago, he now walks with a cane for short to moderate distances, and a rollator walker over longer distances, or on uneven terrain. He doesn't do steps anymore. Now he enters his house via a ramp that had been constructed for him by a grandson.
She is two years his junior. The beautiful bright brown eyed girl had been an honor student, going straight from high school into the work force in 1947. She had worked in the offices of Island Creek Coal Company until they had moved from Logan County to Huntington in September 1952 with their talkative two year old. For the next 20 years her full time job was that of a mother, and minister's wife. She raised three boys, took care of all the family business, cooked, cleaned house, and drove her sons to all of their activities. When the youngest was in high school, she went back into the work place. First she managed the downtown office of a busy dermatologist, and later worked in the practice of a busy urologist. Eventually, when her husband retired from his job, she left the medical office and worked part time in the neighborhood drug store. When the pharmacy eventually closed down, she decided it was time for her to "retire" as well.
Now her days are spent in a fog. Questions abound regarding what day it is, and about the whereabouts of her parents, and why she hasn't seen them in a while. Her father passed away in 1968 and her mother in 1996. When told of that, she is surprised and wonders "where she was when all that happened".
Now her husband tries to persuade her to get out of the car and go inside their home.
"Pat, this has been our home for 59 years".
"Well it looks familiar, and I may have been here before, but I don't think I ever lived here."
Once inside, the routine continues.
"Are we married?"
"Yes, for 62 years."
"I sure don't remember that! Who married us?"
"Preacher Jeff Curry, at your Mom and Dad's house at Holden."
"You don't look like my husband! How long have we been married?
Again, "62 years."
"Did you have a wife before me?"
"No, just you."
"Did we have any children?"
"We have three boys, four grandsons, two granddaughters, and five great grandsons!"
"Well, they must not live around here. I don't know any of them, so I must not be around them very much."
A surprised look comes over her face, and she asks (as if for the first time) "Are you my husband?"
"Yes, for 62 years."
She shakes her head in confusion.
"Do we have any children?"
"Yes, three boys."
"Did we have any girls?"
"No... just the three boys."
She sits quietly for a few minutes, staring straight ahead. Her once bright brown eyes, now cloudy and empty are fixed on some far away object.
"When are we going home?"
"We are home, Pat. We live here."
"Well it looks familiar, but I don't think I ever lived here."
He sits quietly at the kitchen table, going over the morning paper, closely studying the obituary section. Seems as though there is someone in there every day that he has known through his work or ministry. She goes to the front door to bring in the mail. It comes early in the morning, but even after bringing it in, she will make nine or ten trips to the mailbox throughout the day, wondering aloud, "I wonder when the mail man will run."
After a few more minutes of silence, she asks, "Now where will I sleep tonight?"
"In that bed" he says flatly, pointing toward their bedroom.
"Where will you sleep?" she asks nervously.
"Not with me, you won't! I'm married!"
"You sure are!" he grins. "You've been married to me for 62 years."
"I have? Do we have any children?"
The conversation loops on, over, and over, and over again. All day. Every day. It would be funny if it weren't so sad.
Back in the day, her spare minutes (rare though they may have been) would have been spent reading. Perhaps a book from the neighborhood branch library, or her Bible, or her Sunday School lesson, or perhaps Guidepost magazine. Now, she sleeps - a lot. She will generally lie down on the bed or on the living room sofa, and she slips off to sleep. One can only wonder about her dreams. What must they be like?
When he awakens her (and he has to awaken her, or she would sleep most of the day), it starts all over again.
At the age of 60, I am very thankful that both of my parents are still with me. Few of my friends have that same blessing at our age. But sadly, it seems that we have already lost my mother, some time ago. We have seen her slip away by degree, deeper and deeper into the fog of her illness. She often asks Dad who he is. A few months ago, she referred to me as "that gentleman over there". She no longer recognizes my youngest brother, and her grand children and great grandchildren are simply strangers to her. Her only surviving sister visited from Houston last fall, and Mom never did grasp who she was. I know that the time is coming soon when we will all just be strangers to her.
Dad stubbornly refuses to have anyone come in to help him. I can't say as I blame him, because I know he wants them to live independently as long as they can. But in reality, we know that he will have to allow someone to help - sooner than later.
It is such a cruel disease. It has robbed my mother of her memory and much of her dignity. But as I watch her face during worship service every Sunday morning, I know that it has not robbed her of her personal relationship with The Father. One day He will make all things new. I take great comfort in that.