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Vera

By  Ralph Trimble  

 

I hadn’t seen Vera for years.  Now I see her just about every time Carolyn and I drive back to see Carolyn’s mother, Beth.  Beth lives in the Alzheimer’s unit of the Methwick Retirement Community in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Recently, Vera moved there, too, and into the same wing of eight residents.  The first time I saw Vera there, she was sitting at the dining room table.

“Vera?”

“Yes?” Same welcoming smile and spark in her  eyes.

“You won’t recognize me because I’ve changed a  lot, but you knew me about 50    years ago.”

“I did?  What’s your name?”

“Ralph Trimble.”

“Trimble. . . . Now that’s a familiar name.”

“In those days, I dated your daughter, Kathy.”

“Well, I always trusted Kathy’s judgment in who she dated.”

“And this is my wife, Carolyn.” 

“I’m glad to meet you, Carolyn.”

“I’m glad to meet you too.  My mother lives down  the hall from you.”

“She does?  What’s her name?”

“Beth Casady.”

“I don’t think I know her.  I must meet her!”

Vera walked down the hall with us and we introduced her to Beth.  Although the two had eaten together each day for several weeks now, neither woman recognized the other.  Still, over brief intervals, each made intelligent conversation.  In a few minutes, a staff person came by and took Vera to the lobby for an activity.

Soon after that, I had to run an errand.  I passed Vera on my way out, smiled and said good-bye.  She smiled back.  Then, with a quizzical look on her face, she said, “Now you look familiar!” 

I reminded her of our meeting twenty minutes earlier and she said, “You know, I feel OK, but my brain isn’t much good.” 

Later, when Carolyn left, Vera looked up.   With mock sternness she said,  “Now young lady, you be sure to go straight home!”   Some of the gentle humor of the former Vera was intact, even if her memory was not.

Every time we see Vera, our interactions are pretty much like what I’ve just described.  Sometimes, though, she’s out, and from the checkout board we can see that she is with someone named “John.”  Until last week-end, I thought John had to be a brother or maybe a grandson.  I knew that George, Vera’s husband, had died seven or eight years ago, but with my blinders about her age and disability, I didn’t think that John could be a boyfriend.

Last weekend I found I was wrong.  As we walked onto the unit, there were Vera and a nice, elderly man, sitting close to each other, holding hands.  As always, we introduced ourselves to her.  Then, Vera introduced us to John:

“I’d like you to meet John.  John is a gift George gave me when he died.  George asked John to take care of me, and he has.”

Then they told us how they met, years ago, after John and his wife had moved in across the street from Vera and George.  They told of their first meeting, and about how the two couples had been friends ever since, until John became a widower and Vera became a widow.  Now John is George’s last gift to her.  They had just come back from a Sunday buffet at the local VFW.  I don’t know how much of the excursion Vera remembered, but each seemed pleased to have been out with the other.

Later, as Carolyn and I were saying good-bye to Beth, we saw Vera and John ahead of us, kissing each other good-bye.  At the risk of sounding patronizing, I have to say it was sweet.  More than sweet, it felt like a privilege to see this elderly couple, she with her dementia and he with his cane and VFW cap, loving each other.

Once a friend and I were talking about Alzheimer’s and he said, “I’ll tell you what, Ralph:  If I ever get like that, I want you to sneak up behind me with a big monkey wrench and whack me on the head REALLY HARD!  You’ll be doing my family and me a big favor.” For all I know, many people feel that way—but they’ve not seen Vera.

Vera seems to have moments of joy, even if she can’t always remember them.  Maybe we value memory so much that we fail to notice how much else can remain even when it is lost.  Along with joy, the clear survival of Vera’s curiosity, love and dignity gives a good message about the nature of all humanity.  From time to time, we need that message. 

May there never be monkey wrenches in places like Methwick!

 

 

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