My Grammie lived with us for a few years before she was transferred to a nursing home. The adjustment was hard for her, especially due to the new presence of a roommate, but she understood the necessity, as her health had begun to rapidly decline.
Her room was set up with two beds arranged perpendicular to one another, divided by a curtain. Her roommate was by the door, and my Grammie was by the window, which she liked, as the sun shone in and warmed her cold skin during the day. One afternoon, as my mom was en-route down the hall on a visit, she saw a man in the doorway, sitting in a chair beside the roommate’s bed.
“Hello,” she said warmly as she approached him.
The man immediately jumped up from his seat to greet her, extending his hand kindly.
“Hello ma’am, my name is Mr. Day and this is my wife. I just want you to know that I will be looking out for your mom, Miss Patricia, here. I will make sure she is taken care of and that she is as comfortable as possible.”
A few days later, when I made my first visit to the nursing home, I took a seat next to my Grammie’s television and watched the sunbeams glide in through the window and across her freckled arms. She said she felt pretty good that day, her breathing was getting better and she had an appetite again. My mom asked about her physical therapy, and my sister talked about the weekend talent show my brother was in. As they talked, I glanced down at the dresser next to the television, noticing a few cards and a teddy bear holding a puffy, red, “get well soon” heart in its arms. Being nosy, I flipped open the tag attached to its ear and read the kind, handwritten note addressed to a name I didn’t recognize. I then inched each of the cards ajar and noticed they too shared the name of the same recipient, though according to the dates inside, some were given 4 or 5 years ago.
On my next visit, as my mom and I were en-route to the window-side bed, we saw the familiar figure sitting in the chair by the doorway. When we reached him, Mr. Day again jumped up with haste to greet us. It was my first time meeting him, and as he shook my hand he said, “You know, you look exactly like your mother.”
That day, as my mom and I visited, I watched Mr. Day out of the corner of my eye. He sat very contentedly next to his wife’s bed, watching football and holding her hand, and all I could do was replay the story my mom had told me in the car on the way over.
Nine years he’d been doing this. Almost an entire decade. Mrs. Day had a stroke in her mid-50’s, and was later diagnosed with both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. For 9 years he had come to visit her, knowing she would lay there asleep, being fed through a tube. There were so many things he could be doing, so many places he could be seeing, yet there he was beside her, as he’d always been.
What a love they must have had, I thought; though it was clear to him that it did not live in the past. This woman, even while held in the clutches of tubes and wires, was still the woman he married, the woman who held his heart.
I thought of what my Grammie had told my mother the day before.
“Her feet kick,” she’d said between slow breaths.
“What do you mean?”
“When he talks to her. She kicks her feet when she hears his voice.”
Oh what a love they still have, I thought.
He, who has every reason to feel trapped or angry or resentful, looks at her like she is his own perfect Sleeping Beauty, and she, who has every reason to let go, holds on to hear that voice she knows so well. For even in the worst of times, they still find a way to keep the vow from the best of times.