By Larry Peterson
If you and your spouse have lived within a marriage that has been filled with an unconditional, unselfish, love for each other, then you have been truly blessed. Giving of oneself to another “no matter what,” creates a connection that can never be broken, and it leaves behind a journey that has been sheathed with laughter, joy, comfort, and compassion powered by that love.
This was God’s plan, and many have embraced it and lived it and reaped the rewards of truly being ONE. Loving someone more than yourself can be a hard thing to do and many have tried but failed. But far more have tried and succeeded by emptying themselves for each other.
I have two dear friends, better yet I shall call them the BEST friends anyone could ever have. Their names are Mike and Roberta, and we met 35 years ago when our sons were playing youth baseball. Their friendship was unconditional, unquestioned, and given freely, without reservation. They were unhesitatingly there for my family and later, after my wife, Loretta had passed, for me.
As is the way of things time never waits for anyone and keeps moving forward. Now Roberta looks at the dying person in the bed before her and realizes that part of herself is lying there too. Suddenly their lives together scroll before her. The courtship, the wedding, the birth of their child, the laughter, the good times and the bad, the crying, and so forth. This is when having God in your life is crucial. Hope springs eternal and therein lies the truth of the power of faith.
My friend, Mike, was raised in an orphanage in Philadelphia. Long ago, his mother dropped him off in front of the place on a snowy, Christmas Eve. She left him standing there with a note pinned to his jacket. He was four years old. When he turned eighteen, he was dismissed from the orphanage, given a few bucks, and offered “best wishes and God’s blessings.”
He walked away from that place and immediately joined the United States Marine Corp. From that day forward, Mike, who was a trucker, has walked, talked and looked like a Marine. Most of all he has loved his family and his country as completely as he could.
Roberta, who was a florist, was one of three sisters and was also from Philadelphia. Her life looks like different chapters in a novel whose genre could be considered “urban legend melodrama.” She was one of three sisters and was abused as a child. She lost her first husband to diabetes when she was thirty-one years old. Her father, an alcoholic, was burned over 75% of his body and she cared for him until he recovered and could somewhat function on his own.
Then she turned to alcohol which ultimately led her to Alcoholics Anonymous. Mike was also attending AA, and that is where they met. He became her sponsor, and he was relentless in his quest to get her to stop drinking. She eventually did, and they got married. (Neither of them has had a drink in over 50 years).
A half-century of climbing and struggling down into the valleys and over the mountains of the journey called “life” has passed. They never wavered, stood tall, and together stared down and conquered all obstacles in their path. They raised a son who grew up to be the chief pilot for a well-known airline. Mike and Roberta are a living definition of the word, marriage.
One more challenge stands before them. The only problem is, this time only one of them can confront the challenge. And, upon completing that challenge, that person will be alone.
Mike has been attacked by the cruel demon known as Alzheimer’s disease. It began erasing his memory some years ago, and it has relentlessly worked its evil 24/7. Today Mike is in a “memory care unit” inside a nursing home. He remembers nothing yet his face lights up and he smiles ear to ear when his dear Roberta walks into the room. He thinks she is his “mommy.” Except she is not. He also has lost the ability to swallow and can no longer eat or drink.
His lover and best friend is now faced with the task of watching him leave her forever. She has asked Hospice to keep him pain-free and as comfortable as possible. The journey of the long goodbye has reached the last turn before arriving at the station. All that Roberta can do is embrace what was and know that his spirit will always be with her. Then she can take comfort in knowing that one day, holding hands, they will stand together again.
May God bless and have mercy on all Alzheimer’s victims and their families.