|Mum & Dad's 50th Wedding Anniversary|
Dad and Mum were married for 54 years. Happily married. Because, I believe, they made family, humor, and love the key ingredients to their secret recipe.
Stupidly, I don’t think I ever asked them any of the “W” questions about their marriage, and now it’s too late. I can only extrapolate things as I look in hindsight.
Dad was always quiet and meticulous in his life. From the moment he left his bed in the morning, to the moment he set his slippers – side-by-side – by his bed at night he was measured and tidy in everything he did.
Mum, on the other hand, was a bit like the blustery wind in spring, whooshing in and out, darting from here to there, chattering as she went, leaving a clear trail of where she’d been in her wake. Dad would sigh and retreat to the perfect order of his study.
Yet he needed this side of Mum. He needed a little “spring” in his life and to celebrate his joy, he would whistle about the house. Mum would pause, a cheeky smile hooking her lips, “I love hearing him whistle; it means he’s happy.” Then off she’d go on her next mission. Music was another ingredient in their shared life, only it was Dad who did most of the singing.
The routines in their life were, I’m sure, more for Dad than for Mum in those days. He always rose at the same time; even years after he smashed his alarm clock the day after he retired, following the same order of events no matter whether it was Monday, Sunday, winter or other. The smashing of the alarm clock was a vivid memory as it was something that didn’t go with the meticulous that was our father, but fitted perfectly with the naughty boy that was Brian; the prankster, the joke-teller and pudding-thief.
Then came a time when Dad determined he needed more dependability in his life, and so was born the Nuclear-Fallout Cabinet. It was a very fancy name for a simple old upright cupboard with two drawers. However, the contents were sacred; they were purchased by him and were accessible by him only. He wanted the same brand, the same name, and the same manufacturer every time. He had no desire to try anything different. “I want to know exactly what I’m going to taste when I put the first bite in my mouth,” he told me when at last I asked. It was only later that I also realized they were all things he loved, that Mum didn’t like.
And wine. (Although this she liked.)
Later, shortly after he died, boxing up the contents of his study we discovered sub-stations of the Nuclear-Fallout all over his office. Filled with bars of Cadbury’s chocolate.
When we were kids, he would raid the cooking chocolate stash in the kitchen and eat the bar from back to the front, always careful to leave the paper wrapper looking intact. Imagine Mum’s horror when she came to get chocolate for baking some mouth-watering dish. Windows trembled and Dad played “dead” somewhere in fits of giggles as Mum went on the rampage looking for the chocolate thief.
Dad was science fiction while Mum was happily-ever-after romance.
He was steady while she was variable.
He liked kippers and she hated kippers.
Plans vs. spontaneity.
Yet, in all the years they were married, I don’t think I ever heard them have an argument. If I heard them exchange a few tense words, it was maybe five times in all those years.
Among the many things Mum was always good at, she was brilliant at finding a positive response to everything. She would find the silver lining, the saving grace, the compliment in the disaster, the humor in the embarrassment, the gratitude in the moan. Heck, I could go on and on.
We used to laugh (actually we still laugh when we remember) saying Mum could probably even find the positive in falling off a building, “at least I’d have my best undies on.” Bless.
So maybe what I’ve needed to share all along, is how important it is to us to stay positive as Mum goes through these last stages of Alzheimer’s. Daddy knew she ill, and in his usual manner got most things under control and researched while keeping her Alzheimer's under wraps for a couple of years, protecting her to the best of his ability and keeping his promise made all those years before “... for better or for worse … in sickness and in health ... to love and to cherish ... until death do us part.”
He cherished her. He loved her. He did it all until the very last moments of his life. Actually, well beyond the span of his life, for he put many things together which still today keep Mum safe and protected.
He did his homework in his methodical manner, reading and researching the disease and how to help his bride. He included her in his crossword puzzle solving. He didn’t “need” her help; he was the King of Crossword Puzzles. But he’d read that solving puzzles was a good way to keep the brain stimulated. He played games with her. Watched films with her. Kept unbreakable routines and took familiar routes every time. He made lists for her, took over the grocery shopping, encouraging her to shop locally rather than trekking out to the giant mega store a few miles from their home.
Fewer choices for early-onset Alzheimer’s and dementia patients is better. They become easily flustered, and I know Dad read that, because a few years later as I took on the caretaker role, I read it too.
And laughter. There had to be laughter. So when Mum would get upset or fall into one of her typical sundowner depressions, he would find endless ways to lighten the mood, to cheer her up and make her smile.
I will never forget the last few months of their marriage, because I had the privilege of living with them. Every morning Mum would come down to breakfast and join us in the dining room. Dad and I would be there, the table laid, the tea made, the cereal out – everything prepared early by Dad so Mum wouldn’t suffer the public embarrassment of not remembering how to boil water, lay the table or find the cereal. It’s the little things that go – a bit like a baby in reverse. She would arrive and hug him with the joy of seeing someone who’d been away a lifetime. Dad would squirm, but underneath I know his heart was overflowing with gratitude. Then he’d tease her and send her packing to her side of the table with strict instructions not to move until she was done. Another gentle prompt couched in loving-kindness.
Their love, you see, was shown not through force but through fascination with each other. It was a love that had grown over decades dappled with sleepless nights, endless routines, joys and troubles. A love that built solidly upon itself, which showed not told; maybe that’s why I never asked any of the “W” questions.
So today, we keep the humor going with Mum and between ourselves. The four of us have become more organized in our planning and decision-making, because five years on from Dad’s death, it has been up to us to make those decisions for her. With sorrow and humility, we took on the mantle of responsibility after Dad died in 2010 and we make sure we laugh as often as we can. We laugh and we love, we share and we keep our family tight together. We continue many of their traditions because they are inbuilt by those experts.
One thing we do a little differently, is that we talk openly about how we feel about all of this Alzheimer's. We have chosen to wear positivity like a gentle shawl and while we make plans, we keep schedules flexible. We talk about the unhappy parts, the pain of losing Mum one-memory-at-a-time. We talk about how much we miss Dad, who left all too quickly taken by his broken heart. We cry, together.
Dad saw Mum's end coming. He’d read too much, he couldn’t bear the pain of watching this creepy crawly disease claim the bride of his life. So in a classic Brian-move, he distracted us with “the handkerchief” and in a puff of white he was gone at dawn.