Sunday, September 18, 2011

That Last, Sweet Dance

He first noticed her bouncing a ball with one of her friends. Her long, lovely braids danced as she moved. She was 10 and he was 11. By the time she was 16, he'd exacted a promise from her that she'd wait for him to get out of the service when he'd come home to marry her. And he did.

They lived a very traditional life, with her keeping the home and children and he working hard to make a living for their growing family. They adhered to their upbringing and culture that dictated the man was in charge of the family. It didn't seem to bother her. She awoke early every morning and rolled out dozens of tortillas each day. Her children's alarm in the morning was the comforting aroma of the tortillas toasting on the comal on the stove in the kitchen.

They never had extra money in those days, but they always had enough. He never showed much affection, and the macho code restrained him from ever sharing much of his feelings with anyone, but his way of showing his love to his family was by providing for them. She brought liveliness and much affection and joy to him and their children.

As the two aged, the children speculated their mom wouldn't last long if their dad went first, so dependent was she upon him, but figured their dad was the Rock of Gibraltar, and would stoically weather any storm, including his wife passing away before him.

A massive heart attack and then Alzheimer's, despite her family's best efforts, sent her into a nursing home. Everyone's concern centered on her. Their dad was so self sufficient they didn't fret about him.

He was again silent about his feelings, but faithfully went to the nursing home every day to visit and spent the entire day, every day. Their new home built on the lake sat empty and he moved their travel trailer into town to be closer to her.

It was when his family noticed he had lost an alarming amount of weight that they realized the heavy toll this new battle was taking on him. At 84 years old, he had no health problems, but he was failing.

Finally one day he cried in front of his son, the first time the son had ever seen his dad weep. He poured out his love and concern for his lifelong sweetheart, and his son was amazed that behind that rock like exterior beat such a heart of intense love and devotion. He seemed to find strength in unburdening himself and began to regain weight.

His novia, as he calls her, is hazy on the some the details of their early life, but loves to talk about them. He patiently listens and gently supplies the missing pieces to her, day after day.

He bought a brush and although in his whole life he'd only ever combed his own hair, he began brushing her hair, as best he can, every day. He bought bows and combs and now affixes them daily to her hair, as he remembers she used to do.

The nurses would do it, but he insists on rubbing her hands each morning and makes them soft and supple with lotion, thinking back to all the times those hands had generously patted out bread loaves and tortillas, and washed and folded his clothes and soothed their children.

He looks into her eyes and gives her that little wink he first started giving her when they were teenagers. When some of the old school Spanish polka music comes on the radio in her room, he clasps her hands in the same way he used to when they'd hit the dance floor at the countless weddings and quincieneras they'd attended. He sways with her just as if they are gliding around the dance floor once again, although she is bedbound. She laughs and tilts her head back, knowing with full confidence she still has this man's heart captured.

And in this last, sweet, slow dance they share together as more of her disappears each day, their children marvel at the man the press of life has produced in their father.

There are some who feel that when a person's mind has been robbed from them, the marital union no longer exists. Don't tell that to this couple. It took the crucible of the nursing home to demonstrate just how strong it is to everyone, but my mother in law and father in law meant it when they said, "For better or for worse." Nothing short of death is going to break their bond.


  1. I'm wiping away the tears once again, Shelly. This reminds me of The Notebook. Sometimes it takes a huge pattern interrupt like a medical crisis to bring people out of themselves. The symbiosis you described between your mother-in-law and father-in-law is typical of traditional marriages. Working hard and providing for the family speaks volumes and reveals love even if it is not openly expressed. Yet, when the chips are down, it's a blessing when tradition can be set aside so that people can get real with each other and say everything that needs to be said. If you love somebody tell them now. Don't wait till tomorrow because tomorrow might never come.

  2. I so enjoyed reading this. I can understand that bond that your in-laws share, as my in-laws are going through a similar experience right now, MIL is losing her memory and needs assisted living care; FIL, relatively independent decided to move in with her rather than be apart from her. He is not as stoic as your FIL, feeling a bit sorry for himself with the loss of the wife he used to have with the companionship they shared, but that bond is still there. He's almost 88, she 85. I'm not sure who will be the most lost with whichever one dies first.

    Beautiful love story though you shared! Always good to be a blessed woman!


  3. Shady: You are so right, my friend. When the chips are down is when they show what they are truly made of. So many of the marriages from that generation are built like that, and although the dynamics of today's relationships are different, the love isn't any less.

    None of us is promised tomorrow, so I live by that-tell the ones you love how you feel and don't leave anything unsaid.

  4. That corgi: I can't imagine a more unnerving thing than to be without the one you've joined your heart to, whether it be a slow or quick process. Love is love, no matter what state or condition we're in. I hope your FIL is able to adjust-

  5. What an intensely beautiful story. How wonderful are the lives of ordinary but loving people.

  6. Belle: Thank you so much- love is beautiful in all of us!

  7. OH, when I see a new post from you, I click it over and put it on the bottom for when I have time and can't wait to find that time to read it!!

    I wish I could sit with you in person, or better yet, go on walks with you and talk.

    I cried through this whole story. That love. That true love, that for better or worse love.

    My neighbor was diagnosed 2 years ago with Alzheimers and had to quit teaching and is home. She's done some different things lately, like mowing the lawn in her swimming suit, with no shoes on.

    It's such a hard thing for loved ones to watch and not know what to do. (not the mowing lawn thing) My husband's aunt was diagnosed recently with it also and she's always so organized and together and is seeing that start to fade away already. Such a hard thing for the person diagnosed with it in the beginning and hard for all who love the person throughout the whole thing.

    It is hard to watch our neighbor, her husband is as you explain your father in law and I just hope we can help him in any way when things get bad. (they have 2 grown sons)

    I'm sure as a person watches their love of their life go through so much their love grows even deeper than they thought imaginable.

    Beautiful writing of this beautiful love.

  8. That made me cry - it was such a beautiful love story. And I believe that death separates a love like that only temporarily. A love like that is eternal. How beautiful.

  9. I got tearful, too, reading this wonderful long-time love story, Shelly. How great that he is able to express his love in so many ways when she needs him so much. And I'm so glad you wrote this as a real-life response to that outrageous pronouncement regarding divorcing a spouse who has Alzheimer's.

  10. Jamie: I feel so very honored by your words- thank you! I would love to walk and talk with you sometime, too. Your precious neighbor- what a difficult time for them to be going through. I am so glad they have kind and compassionate neighbors like you. Her husband is definitely going to need your support.

    And, your husband's aunt must find it especially difficult, for one who has had it so "together" for all of her life, to now knowingly be losing her grip. Again, it's wonderful that she has terrific people like you and your husband in her life to ease things some.

    I think true love is timeless and conditionless. I'm sure you know that truth well, too!

  11. Karen: Thank you so much. Death can't nullify love, for certain. It's the one thing we can count on in this ever changing world.

    Dr. Kathy: For someone who had so very restrained in expressing his feelings for so many years, he's left them fully on now, which is a joy to see. And yes, I thought it was incomprehensible the notion that a marriage is over because of a serious disease. I won't ever believe that.

  12. I have tears in my eyes! The part about him putting lotion on the hands that made so many tortillas really got me. I loved this!

  13. Kelley: It is so moving to see someone who's been such a strong man his whole life being so tender with her. And, thank you!

  14. What a lovely story. This kind of lasting love is so rare today. I find the story refreshing in so many ways.

    The man reminds of my mother in a way. She rarely shares her feelings and even when her parents dies she was a pillar of strength for her siblings. She shed not one tear. This reminds that even when people do not emote externally there are deep emotions within.

  15. Crystal: Now that my father in law opened up to my husband, it's become a easier for him to share his feelings, although only to my husband and not to his other kids. It would be too hard for me to keep everything bottled up, but you're right- whether shown or not, feelings in folks like your mom and my father in law run very deep.

  16. Oh, Shelly. SO well told. Sweet without being overly sentimental, and I love that. My own parents have been married for over 50 years now, and it is still clear to all who see that my father is in love with my mother, that she has made him the man he is today (especially when contrasted against the rest of his family!).

    Great bit of writing, Shelly!


  17. Pearl: Thank you- stories like this are always so easy to tell. I adore stories about long standing love- just like what your parents have. Enjoyed your post about them today!

  18. Before I was a mom I was an alzheimer's nurse. It was one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. The recent statement by Pat Robertson made me so sad.

  19. Felt Family: What a wonderful, difficult job. I truly admire you. I don't think I could do it long term. That statement was just flat wrong. I hope people see it for that.

  20. My oh my Shelly, the "A" word worries me and terrifies me like a monster does a kid. I have had slight memory lapses and I am so afraid that I might loose my memory that I am driving my hubby nuts, while he himself is a heart patient. Hi this is Munir over here at Focus. Learning about people with the dreaded condition makes me feel very sad, but it also gives me courage. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Munir: I have memory lapses at times, too, and I think we all do. My prayer is that sometime in the near future they will find better ways to treat this disease.

  22. I so can relate to this. My mother had Alzheimer's. Up until the day she died my father attended to her. I try and not think what might lurk in my DNA. I write now and often. If the unthinkable should happen, my daughters will always have my voice.

  23. Susie: What a beautiful thing for your dad to do. I know it must have given your mom such peace and security. And, precisely because none of us knows exactly what is ahead for us, it's all the more reason to squeeze every drop of living we can out of today. Thank you for stopping by!


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