Recently I traveled the short distance from my home to a senior care facility where both my parents reside in a memory care unit.
For the last four months, Mom and Dad have been separated due to various problems associated with the dementia that has ravaged their lives. Dementia issues have been haunting them now for over four years. They are both in their 90s and they’ve been married for 70 years.
Needless to say, the separation has been devastating for them and all our family members. Add the COVID-19 mess to this and the word “overwhelming” applies.
As my mother has grown weaker, I realized the need for my parents to see each other face-to-face, while they are still able. Time is growing short.
I requested that a meeting be set for my parents to see each other and said I would like to be there to watch and help out if needed. My request was granted, and a few days ago, at 11:30 a.m., the meeting happened.
It was a gorgeous sunny morning with temperatures in the high 70s and a light breeze. The meeting took place in a small outdoor tent-like structure with appropriate anti-COVID measures.
I arrived at the tent a little early and sat down, anxious to start and nervous over what might happen.
Would my 92-year-old mother show up and have a “bad day” with memory loss, loss of muscle control and loss of thought process?
Would Dad show up wracked with confusion and a belligerent demeanor?
The caregiver, Laura, brought my mother out first, very slowly, carefully guiding my mother’s elaborate wheelchair to the tent. Whenever the chair would hit a small bump, Mom would whimper in pain. Mom now weighs about 70 pounds, is mostly blind and cannot walk. All of her day-to-day functions require assistance. She can only speak two or three words at a time. I’m not sure if she recognizes me anymore.
Mom appeared to be awake and conscience of things around her. I loudly said, “Hi, Mom, how’s it going?” She did not reply. I sat alone with her in our little COVID tent.
About five minutes later, Laura came back to the tent with my 91-year-old father. He walked very slowly, with difficulty. He refuses to use a walker or cane despite pleas from the caregivers. He suffered a stroke over two years ago, which has left the right side of his body partly paralyzed. He can no longer use his right hand, so he had to learn to eat with his left hand. It took him two or three days to master feeding himself with his off hand. Food is important to Dad.
My father has good days and bad days. What would today bring?
Laura carefully walked Dad up to the COVID tent, where an empty chair was placed next to Mom in her wheelchair. Mom was awake, but she did not know Dad was nearby since she can’t see much.
Dad instantly recognized his wife of 70 years, and a look of amazement filled his face. He said nothing at first, just slowly walked over to Mom. He very gently placed his hands on top of her hands and said “Hi, Patti, how are you doing?” He then gently kissed her.
Mom recognized Dad’s voice and lifted her head up to try and see him through her blind eyes. Her face was aglow. She replied, “Good!”
For about 30 seconds they simply stared at each other with bright smiles and a love developed over the 70 years they have been together. The sunlight filtered through the tree branches above as the light breeze washed over us.
For about 30 seconds there was no dementia, no COVID-19, no hate, no racism, no partisan politics.
For about 30 seconds, the world was perfect.
Very little was spoken over the next half-hour. They simply stared at each other and held hands.
Laura eventually came back and gently took Dad back to his apartment. Then she came back to fetch my mother, who looked happy and very tired.
Those 30 seconds mean the world to me.
Scott Bengston lives in Shoreview.