friends Kit and Julian were married for 64 years. When Kit died after years of decline from Alzheimer’s, their friends wondered how Julian would manage. At her memorial service I couldn’t stop the tears when I embraced him, a prince of a man.
Julian took care of Kit at home until it became too much for one person to handle, and they moved into Green Hill, a multi-level senior healthcare facility. He was fit enough to have stayed in their apartment, but he wanted to be with his wife.
As Kit’s memory eroded, she lost recognition of most things and people, but she never lost her connection with Julian. Even in her decline, they continued affectionate. Julian said the staff and the other residents appreciated their frequent kisses, “and we were delighted to oblige.” She would take his hand and say, “You’re cute. We ought to get married.”
Julian asked their minister if he would conduct a ceremony to renew their wedding vows. It was the sort of outrageously devoted thing that Julian would find perfectly normal. The minister said it was “the most unusual wedding I’ve ever seen. Kit may not have been aware of exactly what was happening, but she knew very obviously and very warmly that it had something to do with her and the man she loved.” Their life was not all roses, but they kept choosing each other for 64 years.
The day after Kit’s memorial service I visited my aunt in another nursing home. In the lobby, I saw a man splayed out asleep in a wheelchair, his head canted sharply to one side, his mouth open. In a wheelchair parallel to him but facing in the other direction sat an ancient woman. She had her hand on his wrist and gazed at him steadily, keeping watch over the wreck of her beloved.
My most recent read, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, instructs readers to live life’s every moment “with full attention as if you were discovering what you were [doing] for the first time.” These two couples lived out this universal wisdom, re-committing themselves again and again every day.