I may not get over this. I hope I don't forget this anytime soon.
I met some friends for lunch today, and as we chatted away on our various topics, my mom stopped midsentence, concerned by the sight just outside our window. A very elderly couple had arrived in their car, and he had come around to her side to help her out of the car. But he almost dropped her three times, as she could not steady herself on her feet, and he couldn't hold her up on his own. She had a very blank, absent expression on her face, with no flicker of recognition or lucidity.
He struggled time and time again, to no avail. She couldn't help him with the task at hand, and he was growing so frustrated. From our vantage point, he looked impatient and overly aggressive with this little woman who was beyond comprehension. He finally gave up. He set her back in the passenger's seat, and then he wrestled to get her jacket on her stiff, unyielding arms. He threw his hands in the air, he closed her door in exasperation, and he walked to his side of the car. He got into the driver's seat, and he told her his frustration.
We couldn't hear him, but the conversation needed no translation. It was very clear.
What were we to do? He seemed like such an angry man, so impatient... if we offered to help, he would probably be offended. He would probably yell at us, storm off in his car, and take out his embarrassment on his wife who couldn't carry her own weight, let alone his burdens. She was his burden.
We were torn. We could not take our eyes off them, and yet we didn't know what to do. He opened his door; it looked like he had gathered his composure and he wanted to try again. The poor man just wanted to take his wife to lunch.
I said to my friend, "Let's go. Let's at least offer. What's the worst that can happen? He'll say no, and we'll come inside. But we have to offer."
So we stepped outside and approached his car, preparing for the worst. I introduced myself, she introduced herself, and the old man's face softened. He said, "Hello, ladies. What is it that you want?"
"Well, we were just noticing that you are struggling to help her out of the car. And we wondered if you might like some help."
He gently closed his car door, and he spoke with a very gentle, tender voice. "My wife has Alzheimer's. I can't get her coat on. We've never been here before. I just wanted to try some place new. I just can't get her coat on."
He wasn't mean at all. He was gentle and kind, and so very, very tired.
"Can we help you?"
"No, I think I've got it now. I've got her. I'll try again." Now, hours later, that phrase strikes me with its potency: I've got her. He sure does. In every way, she is his.
He thanked us for our kindness, and we excused ourselves to come inside. Moments later, he followed us, with his frail, absent wife at his side. They sat at the table next to ours. He placed her gently in the booth, and then he touched my arm with tears in his eyes. "Thank you. Thank you. That is the kindest thing you could have done for me."
I assured him that it was my pleasure, and I showed him where to get in line to order his food. We shared our breadsticks with his wife while she waited for him to return. Her face lit up, as if she recognized me... or maybe she felt like she should know me, but she can't trust herself to know who she should know.
Suddenly, her face changed to panic. Without words, she was terrified. She suddenly did not know where she was, where he had gone, or if he would be back. I touched her arm, and I said, "He'll be back. I promise. He's getting your food. He'll be back."
Her face softened, but she touched her forehead with her hand, in total anguish. She broke my heart. I needed to check on him.
As I approached the counter, the poor man was standing there, with two cups and a pager in hand. Nobody told him that the drink fountain is around the corner. Nobody told him that they will page him when his food is ready. He could only raise his cup, again and again, saying, "Could I have a coke, please? Coke? Please?"
I said, "Here you go, sir. Let me show you." I helped him fill his cups with Coke. I walked him to his table, with napkins, forks, and spoons. As the pager vibrated, I retrieved and delivered their two pieces of pizza. (I do have some history in the food business, after all. I can wait tables with the best of them... fast food or otherwise.)
We got them settled with their meals, and we left them to their lunch.
But our own lunch table, once chatty and exuberant, was somber and reserved. We had left many topics, dangling and unfinished. But what was there to say?
As we finished our lunch, cleared our table, and prepared to leave, we stopped to say goodbye to them. The very sweet, gentle, old man said, "I wish you could have met my wife three years ago, before all this. We've been married for sixty-two years. She is a lovely lady."
She sure is. And he took her out for lunch today. As I drove home, I cried in my car. And again and again, I said to myself, "Sixty-two years."