‘I think about the vows they took 68 years ago, and how they have lived up to all of them.’ Lovebirds never ‘dreamed’ of dementia, but still believe they hit the marriage ‘jackpot’

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“As Mom and Dad’s 68th wedding anniversary approaches we have decided to keep things low key and ‘normal.’ We find that changes to schedules seem to confuse and aggravate mom. Their anniversary is on a Sunday this year which works perfectly with our Sunday morning breakfasts we have together normally – we will celebrate at breakfast.

I try to imagine 68 years of my life being married to and loving someone. I do not have a great marriage track record so it makes it an even harder thing for me to comprehend. I do know what they have is special. They have lived a life full of giving and loving, and maybe there are a lot of people who live and love that way, but the ones I know happen to be my parents. I consider myself pretty lucky to have hit that jackpot.

A young bride and groom on their wedding day and the same couple in old age, both wearing glasses.
Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia

This past Sunday was a warm day. I walked mom home after breakfast and of course, she wanted to sit in the sun. Now, as a reminder, when she wants to do something she is pretty adamant about doing it. I wanted to give dad time to change and my two aunts have been staying with them for the past few weeks and they are ready to lay down and rest for a bit. As mom zips past me in her wheelchair I follow behind telling her not to go into the street. She says, ‘Why not?’ I attempt to explain cars to her but she turns the corner in the opposite direction. I follow close behind. She wheels herself onto the grass and into the backyard. She is pushing herself and it is hard work to push through the grass. She parks her chair, kicks off her sandals and leans back to soak up the sun.

An older woman reclined in a wheelchair in her yard. She wears a floral shirt and rolled-up pants, and her sandals are off.
Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia
An older woman sits in a wheelchair on bright green grass with her back turned to the camera.
Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia

I head inside. I ask everyone if she will head to the street and they said she won’t because it’s hard for her to get anywhere once she’s in the grass. Is it wrong that I think that’s a good thing?

Every 5 minutes or so I walk out to check on her. She is in the same spot. Nice! Dad is working on getting changed out of his Sunday clothes (remember when we used to have Sunday clothes). I am chatting with my aunts in between visits to the backyard. Once back inside I hear mom and she is at the door – wait, how in the world did she get to the door? She is calling for Carl. I open the door and she says, ‘Too late.’ Hmmm… too late for what? Then it hits me – too late for the bathroom. I won’t go into detail but it was too late.

Off we go to the bathroom. She says she wants Carl. I tell her he is getting changed. I look in their room and he is sitting on the edge of the bed with his comfy shirt pulled half way down and he has fallen asleep sitting up. I tell her he is sleeping. She calls for Carl. He hears her and wakes up and heads in to join me, mom, and my aunt.

She wants us to leave. She wants him to do it. We tell her we can help and he is tired. She insists he helps – not us. Finally, she wins – he does not.

An older woman in a wheelchair wearing a floral shirt, sunglasses, and an American flag ballcap.
Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia

My walk home with mom from the restaurant has turned into a 2 hour event. I call my husband and ask him to pick me up and if possible, bring me a beverage – I want to pretend I’m still on vacation for just a few more hours. This reality stuff is hard. He shows up with a cold drink in hand for me. I close my eyes and take a sip. It helps!

So 68 years ago they stood beside each other with love, hope, and dreams swirling around them as they were about to embark on the unknown. They grew together as a couple. They lifted each other up when they needed it. They paved a way for their 6 children to follow. They led by example. They filled their lives with what they felt was good and important. They grew older and the story of their life could fill a book with only a few chapters left to write.

I’m not sure I ever asked them what they wanted to be when they would one day have time to be just the two of them again. I think I used to think they would travel. They would visit so many people they knew around the world. They would take walks and laugh and love. They would wake up to a new adventure every day. I never thought it would be like this. I’m not sure if I wish I would have asked, or if I’m glad I didn’t.

I think about who they are now and the vows they took 68 years ago and how they have lived up to all of them. I realize how I thought it would be — and what it is — are not that different. They take walks. They laugh. They love. They wake up to a new adventure every day. It is not what I hoped or dreamed for them, but in the end, they still have each other and for them – it is enough.”

An elderly couple smiling while sitting together in dining room chairs. The man has his arm around his wife.
Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Becky Gacono of Annville, Pennsylvania. She is chronicling her mother’s dementia journey on their Facebook page and in a series of posts for Love What Matters:

Family combats mom’s painful dementia journey with humor

‘They are two that have become one’: A day in the life of my mom’s dementia journey

‘His love for her is palpable’: Doting husband’s explicit instructions for wife with dementia’s morning routine

‘I never thought I’d get to kiss an angel’: Daughter overhears midnight whispers between mom with dementia and dad

‘I’ll get to her outfit later’: Daughter’s humorous attempt getting her mom with dementia to the doctor

‘I lost my patience with your mom. I didn’t mean to. I love your mother’: Elderly husband’s anguish of feeling ‘broken’ dealing with wife’s dementia

‘As my mom battles her dementia I realize the importance of a memory’: Daughter savors the ‘crazy, laughter, tears’ because ‘it’s all that matters’

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