They weren't in their room. The door stood open, all the furniture gone. It had been some weeks since we'd been able to get over to the nursing home to visit with the couple who always greeted us with wide smiles and an invitation to find a seat in one of the chairs that fit snugly into the tiny living room. They had been on the first floor in this small suite complete with a small bedroom and a bath. There had been no need for a kitchen, all meals were provided in the dining room just down the hall. They had especially enjoyed that part, dining in the large, cheery room that seemed more like a restaurant with its small, festive tables. There were even menus so that they could select each day what they wanted to eat. It might not have been the home they had shared for many years, but it would do. Best of all, it allowed them to be together.
Someone passing in the hall stopped and told us they'd been moved to the second floor, that we'd find them behind the double brown doors. We climbed the stairs, passed through a long hall and found what we were looking for. Larry gave one a push. It didn't budge, obviously locked from the inside. I don't know why I was surprised. I vaguely remembered a mention on one of our visits of the second floor residents being there because they could no longer care for themselves. I don't believe the word Alzheimer's was used, but it was fairly obvious what she had meant. Their names had been on a plaque outside their little home on the first floor along with a welcome wreath on the door that was usually open when we stopped for a visit. I suddenly felt weary, sad, at the sharp contrast. A worker told us to try the double brown doors again, that someone would open them from the inside. But be careful, she warned, not to let anyone come out as we were going in.
He was sitting at a table with some of the other residents playing a memory game. We watched for a bit then wandered into his wife's new room. A twin bed sat in the middle of the floor, her daughter plopped down on the corner putting pictures in a frame while her mother sat close by watching. She talked as she worked, expressing concern that her mother needed to get more rest, that she needed to sleep in the bed each night like she was supposed to. She looked up at me and explained that her father had been coming to her mother's room at night. One would take the bed while the other slept in the chair. "You both need to sleep in your own beds," she said, gently scolding her mother. One of the sons stood a bit awkwardly on the other side of the room, perhaps not quite knowing what to do with himself. His father was becoming increasingly disoriented and had recently wandered off the premises, he confided to Larry. That's why they had been moved out of their little suite on the first floor.
"We've been together for sixty-two years." Her voice came from the corner where she sat. "We've never been apart." The daughter picked up an album and pulled a few pictures for the frames that would hang on the walls, something to make this sterile little room feel a bit more like home for her mother. Suddenly her father appeared and plopped down in the chair that sat empty next to his wife. His eyes twinkled. He looked at his bride of sixty-two years. "So I've been wondering," he said. "Who gets the bed tonight?"