I don’t cry very often. It’s just not a thing that I do.
However, every so often, something will happen that will set me off. I’m not talking about a few tears, either. I turn into an uncontrollable hot mess of weeping that is really, quite something to behold. The last time it happened, it was this couple. My theory is that I don’t cry as often as I should, so it’s like a dam effect. I go for so long, the dam breaks, boom, taken care of until the next thing.
The other day, we went to go see Jake’s grandma, who is currently in nursing care. She is temporarily sharing her room with another woman, named Caroline (I think that’s right).
When we got there, Jake’s grandma was in the room by herself, and we made some small talk for awhile. She told us that her roommate was a “quiet little thing”, but didn’t say much else about her.
Towards the end of our visit, Caroline was wheeled back into the room by her husband, who had taken her out for a drive. As she came back in, I quickly realized the reason she was so quiet– she clearly was suffering from Alzheimer’s. I felt bad– especially because I could tell she was a bit startled to see four random strangers in her room. I’m not sure if she thought she was supposed to know us or not, but she put on a smile for us.
—One of the challenges of being a writing-type person is that sometimes I find myself at a loss to describe exactly what it was that I experienced. This is one of those times.
I don’t know what it was about what happened that just keeps sticking with me, but I just keep replaying it in my head. Caroline looked so afraid, so empty– and her husband– I just kept watching him. He just looked….so sad, and so very, very lost. We probably were only in the room with them for a grand total of three or four minutes, but something about him just…stuck.
He kept touching her. These tentative, halting touches. First he rubbed her shoulders, then he stroked her hair, then back to her shoulders–he looked like he was scared he was going to break her. And he just looked so sad.
Jake’s grandma took control of the situation and told us that it was getting to be bed time (giving us a non-awkward way out), and I realized that Caroline’s husband didn’t want to leave. He was so hesitant, but his loss was palpable. He didn’t know what to do, but he knew that he had to do it.
We hugged Jake’s grandma and took off, and while I rode home, I ran through in my mind what that must be like– losing your husband or your wife twice— first to Alzheimer’s and then having to leave them in a nursing home because there’s nothing else you can do for them.
When I came home, I cried. I cried and I cried hard for way longer than I needed to– I cried for Caroline, for her husband, for their loss, for his emptiness, for her confusion– I cried because I know that might happen to me some day, or some of our friends. I cried because I know this same situation happens every day, all over the world, and I hate it.
I hate that it makes me so upset, because I’m supposed to be all cool and wacky, not upset at some random person I’ve never even met before. but I am. I just keep thinking about them. What will happen to Caroline? Or her husband? What happens to them now?
Hell, I’m sitting at work writing this and I’m crying.
While I was awkwardly weeping on the couch, Jake, in his heroic attempt to curtail my weeping, said “but this is a happy thing!”
I don’t pretend to be some super deep and introspective writer. In fact, people who believe that about themselves generally annoy me pretty hard. But if I can be deep and introspective about this for a second, maybe this is just one of those “growing up” things.
I don’t do well with loss. I know this about myself. As a kid, I was terrified of death, and as I’ve gotten older, I got over the fear and, admittedly, probably because of my dad more than anything, started just compartmentalizing. But I can’t compartmentalize Caroline and her husband because they aren’t part of my life. I don’t know them, I can’t rest assured knowing that they spent blissful years together– all I saw was this snippet of their time together, and I was devastated for them.
But then I started thinking about what Jake said.
Jake has a fantastically annoying habit of being right, all the time, and I think this might be another one of those times.
Love isn’t always sunshine and puppies. Sometimes being in love sucks ass, especially when things aren’t going your way, or when the person you’re madly in love with is late for dinner and forgotten to pick up toilet paper. Love is mundane.
Love is small, and trivial. It’s choosing to be with someone regardless of faults and failings, because they appreciate Beethoven’s 9th and consider Nerf swords appropriate gifts (Or at least, that is my version of love).
It’s more than that, obviously, but at it’s core, I think, briefly, in Caroline and her husband, I saw where love can go– where it can grow, what it can become, and I was moved by that. I was moved by the realization that maybe in 50 years, that could be me. But if it is– whether I am the Caroline or the husband in my case, one thing is for certain– I will know, unquestionably, what I experienced in the years in between, and I think that’s the part that means the most.
That’s what stuck with me. Caroline’s husband still loves her. She is gone, not entirely yet, but mostly, but he still loves her. There’s a lesson in that somewhere.
Now go vote or something.