What is the opposite of two? A lonely me, a lonely you.
Every morning one of the first things I hear when I get up, is my father talking on the phone to my mother. "Good morning, dear," he always begins these conversations and he ends them with "I love you." My parents have been married nearly 60 years and I find this sense of devotion very moving. Right now, my mother is in a Rehab Center and my parents have experienced three lengthy medical separations during the past year. That doesn't mean they don't see each other because my father goes up to visit my mom every day unless he is truly sick or in extreme pain with his back. What it means is that they don't sleep in the same bed or, usually, eat meals together or see each other the first thing in the morning or the last thing at night. Not a small thing.
When I arrived on January 9, the Christmas tree was still up and the Christmas cards were on the mantle. Dad is keeping the tree up, he said, so that when Mom comes home everything will be like she left it. That's because when she fell and fractured her hip on December 29, the tree was up and Christmas cards were still straggling in. Last night, however, Dad said that, "maybe I'll take the tree down." That's because earlier in the day, the doctor told my parents that she'd be in the Rehab Center at least another month. I had tried to prepare my dad for this possibility, but he continued to remain overly optimistic about when my mother would return until yesterday. So far, he hasn't taken the tree down and I don't plan to encourage him to. If it gives him hope, that's okay. If it depresses him, that's okay too and then he can take it down.
Then there are Dad's dreams. This morning, he said, Mom woke him up at 7 a.m. I thought he meant that Mom had phoned. No, he said, it was her voice outside the bedroom door, saying "Warren, get up." But, of course, she wasn't there: at least not physically. Her voice - a voice he has listened to for at least 60 years - was there and the empty place in the bed was there and the empty place at the dining room table that neither Dad nor I felt comfortable sitting at.
This connection between elderly married couples is no news to researchers. Studies of couples who have been married a long time, shows that the connection between the health of each person is intimately connected. One of the saddest situations that elderly couples face, is when the health problems of one person require a different living arrangement than the other or when both people cannot afford to live in assisted living, required by only one partner. This possibility is a looming one for my parents. We (the children) are doing all we can to help them stay together. Someday, however, our efforts may not be enough and, inevitably, the day will come when one of our parents dies. We try not to think about that too much in the day-to-day work of caregiving, but it is the elephant in the room that no one talks about too much, but that everyone realizes is there.
Enjoy Joe Cocker's take on "Ain't no Sunshine When She's Gone." My mom isn't "a young thing" but my dad would agree with the song's sentiments.