Willie is one of the nicest men I have ever had the honor of serving in my facility, but the last few weeks have been different for him. He is no longer the happy-go-lucky man with a big smile, who loves to talk about his paintings. Rather, he is depressed, tearful and down-right sad.
You see, Willie and Maggie were married in the 40″s. He was a painter, painting everything from houses to beautiful still life art. He even had a short career as a sign painter for the state….the man loves his paint, and oh how the canvas comes alive with each stroke of the brush. Maggie, oh Maggie. She catered to his every whim….she made his breakfast every morning at 5 am. She packed his lunch; two bologna and cheese sandwiches, a zip lock bag full of apple slices which she had peeled every morning, and a small leafy salad with chopped tomatoes.
“ Maggie chopped the best tomatoes;making them fine and perfectly square with each cut. Ever seen a round tomato become square?” Willie loved to boast about Maggie. “Maggie could make the best homemade corn bread and boy, her apple dumplings were out of this world. One thing Maggie used to love to do is sew my name patches on my shirt. She didn’t use a sewing machine either. She hand sewed every stitch. I had the best looking shirts in the whole shop. The fella’s at work always noticed my patch. One fella had his glued on, but not me. My Maggie saw to my looking nice, yes sir. Oh and one more thing, Maggie would sing while she sewed. She had the best voice I have ever heard. People talked about Gladys Knight, oh no, my Maggie, she sounded ten times better. She would sit and sing and sing and I would sit and listen and listen. I could listen to her sing for hours on end. My Maggie had the voice of an angel. Oh and she always looked so beautiful, no matter what she had on. She made an apron look like her Sunday best, yes sir, my Maggie was the most beautiful person in the world. I am a lucky man, the luckiest man on the face of God’s green earth, yes sir I am. My Maggie made me the happiest man in the whole world……”
You could always feel the love he had for his wife. It showed in his eyes and his smile. Willie loved Maggie, period.
A few weeks ago, Maggie passed away after a long battle with cancer. Willie never left her side, even though he himself suffers from dementia . He may forget that he ate breakfast an hour ago, or not be able to recall his nephew’s name but there is one thing he has never forgotten; his love for Maggie.
Each morning since the funeral, Willie wakes up crying and becomes so distraught. ” Maggie died last night, she’s gone, My Maggie is gone…” It is one the most heartbreaking thing to watch. We try to console him; we cry with him and mourn the greatest love of his life.
For short periods of time during the day, Willie seems okay, then it happens. Somewhere deep within his soul, the loss of Maggie is revived, and it is fresh to him as if it just happened. Her existence was his world, and every hour of the day, he is jolted by her death. It is a new experience to him each time, not recognizing the time lapse since her death…..
Such love. What he and Maggie shared, is what we all hope to experience somewhere along life’s way. Seeing him lose her over and over again, every hour, should make us all more aware of those we love…..we have one thing that Willie doesn’t. Time. We have this very fleeting moment to spend time with those we love….for we too, one day will become lost without them. We are a generation of texting, skyping, blogging, tweeting and pinning…all the while not even noticing the people we love sitting across from us……we take so much for granted…….We can go for days, weeks and months without even telling those we love how much we love them, how much they mean to us…. I wonder, will we miss our iPads, iPhones, laptops, kindles, nooks and crannies when we are old……or will we miss the people sitting across from us on the sofa, staring at their iPad, iPhone, iPod ………..
I honestly don’t know how to help Willie. I can bring in grief counselors, social workers, case managers, psychologist, even psychiatry……but how do you stop a man from mourning someone he loved so much? Their lives were so intertwined that nothing can separate them. They were two halves that made one whole.
We should take heed to the lesson we are learning from Willie. Love is eternal and a powerful force that nothing can destroy, not even dementia……We should look up from our electronic devices and notice those we love…..we should tell them, show them and daily remind them……while we have a chance.
My father used to preach a sermon about death, often using the scripture from
1 Corinthians 15:55
” O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”
I think to myself each time I hear Willie’s sobs, “death does sting”……