My family went out to eat tonight with my parents' neighbors Jack and Sarah who, over the years, have become like surrogate grandparents to my brother and me. The dinner was sort of a good-bye for us, as my brother will soon be leaving to teach English in China and I will be moving to New York City in five days. At dinner I was reminded of how it has been meaningful and enchanting to watch Jack and Sarah age over the years.
Meaningful, in that I would not at all say that they are now shells of their former selves because they are still very much alive - and often lively - and well - but sometimes physically not-so-well. Sarah is a former executive with astounding vocal skills; Jack was once an engineer who continues to dabble in a variety of interests and hobbies. Their yard, which was once the envy of the neighborhood and where my high school friends gathered two years in a row to take prom pictures, has become overgrown with underbrush and weeds.
Enchanting, in that they have shown such dedication to each other through the constant perils of Sarah's struggle with Alzheimer's. Sarah has begun to forget who we are and it has been hard for our family to helplessly watch as her cognitive abilities begin to fail. But despite having to deal with a variety of other health ailments between the two of them, they have managed to age with class, style and grace.
Tonight at the restaurant, Sarah's mental clarity was touch and go, dipping her breaded chicken in coffee, forgetting which salad plate was hers, and asking what she should do with an orange slice garnish - typical actions of an patient. It did not bother me at all, though it made me a little sad to see her in such a state. Nevertheless, there were moments of vivid comprehension when Jack would say something familiar and she would look at him as if they were on their first date. He returned the gaze and sometimes reached over to pat her on the hand. Even if it is only for fleeting moments, which are becoming fewer and farther between, it is apparent that Alzheimer's is having a hard time battling that little thing called love.
I hope that I age as they have and get to know that kind of love that Alzheimer's has to struggle to beat. When Jack and Sarah look at each other, you know they only see what they remember they looked like in their youth. Just like when I look at their yard, I only see curtains of roses and fountains of honeysuckle.