I hardly recognized him. He sat in a wheelchair, hunched over, expressionless. I had seen him only a few weeks ago, just before Christmas when we'd taken gift baskets from the church to both him and his wife at the facility where they lived. I remember that we had just barely arrived when the program director popped her head in the wife's room and announced that an hour of storytelling was about to begin in the auditorium. "You're welcome to bring your friends," she insisted. It was then that I noticed the husband was without his walker. I knew he wouldn't be allowed to pass through the secured door and walk the hall without it. "He's lost it again," his wife confided. "He can't remember where he left it." At that moment we heard the voice of one of the aides in the hall as we stood. Not to worry, the lost had been found. It had been in his room all along. Where it belonged.
I knew that the dementia had progressed, but the shock of seeing him in the wheel chair took my breath away. It hadn't even been five months since they were moved from their little apartment on the first floor to the more secure second floor. That's because he had wandered off the grounds and could no longer be trusted to be on his own. It had been a hard adjustment, being separated like that. They had been married for sixty-two years, always together. The separate rooms, even though just across the hall from one another, didn't feel natural. So the few times we visited, we always found them together.
Until today. They had been moved again. This time we would find him in The Manor they said. I'm not really all that sure why they call it that, it is after all a nursing home. Perhaps by giving it a fancy name it's supposed to take away some of the sting. Actually, it's not all that bad for a nursing home. It's clean, fairly bright, even smells okay. If it weren't full of old people, you'd hardly know.
And then we saw her, his wife, sitting behind a table not too many feet behind her husband, his back to her. She lifted her hand and waved, a slight smile on her lips. She knew us. I went and sat beside her. She seemed pleased to see me. "It's nice here," she said. "And I like to sit out here where there's more going on." Perhaps this place would suit her better than the Second Floor facility that had felt so confining. We chatted a bit more, then she continued wistfully. "He doesn't talk to me anymore, doesn't act like he wants to be with me." I touched her arm and spoke as tenderly as I could. "That has to be hard for you." She turned and looked at me. "We've been together since 1949."
Larry pushed her wheel chair beside that of her husband's for a few minutes before we left. "We're about to leave," he told him. "Then we've been told they're going to take your wife to rehab." "Yes, I'm going down to rehab," she repeated. And at that moment he took his hand and reached over and touched her.
I cried for several minutes after we pulled out of the parking lot.