Today I saw love.
True love – the kind that is full of patience, kindness, and gentleness.
My father, who has advanced stage Alzheimer’s, has always been a quiet, gentle-natured man. He is the father who calmly read his newspaper while the neighborhood kids engaged in a water fight that often sloshed as much water inside as outside. He is the kind of man who, upon his youngest daughter (that would be me) rushing into the house and informing him that she left the scene of an accident in order to come get his help, calmly bundled up his daughter into his own vehicle and drove back to the scene of the accident to calm down the other irate driver. He lived through the terror of bombing raids and constant shelling during the Korean War; the noise and chaos of ordinary life were music to his ears.
But his Alzheimer’s has started to eat away at his ability to cope with unfamiliar surroundings or noises. My family and my brother’s family joined my mom and dad today for lunch, and their normally quiet, peaceful home was filled with the noise of laughing children and happy conversation. These are the noises that used to make my father happy. But today, they caused distress.
And in the midst of his distress, I witnessed true love.
His long, thick fingers, calloused from a lifetime of hard work, are intertwined, clasped tightly into one solid fist hovered over his lap, his knuckles white from the strength of his grip, his arms quivering as the tension ascends from his hands and spreads through his body. His baseball hat is pulled low over his forehead, his eyes tightly closed against the chaos all around and the swell of emotion inside. A single tear escapes and rolls slowly down his cheek. He unclasps his hands and carefully wipes the tear away. He looks at me, and I put my hand on my father’s knee and tell him that it’s ok – words he has uttered to me at so many points on my life. His eyes tell me things are not yet okay.
My mother squats in front of him and cups his head between her hands, gently and slowly caressing his neck, his face, his head. He rests his hands on her arms, the tension dissipating as she leans forward until his forehead is resting against her own. Over and over, she whispers to him, “It’s okay. It’s okay. You’re okay. I’m here. I’m here. You’re okay.”
He opens his eyes and looks into hers, safe now that she is there. He rises from his chair, clasps her hand, and soaks in the comfort of the voice of his wife.
Next month is Valentine’s Day. A lot of industries will deliver a cacophony of ways to express love: expensive bouquets of flowers, boxes of prettily wrapped chocolates, elegant dinners that all cost far too much simply because it’s Valentine’s Day. And don’t forget the paper cards with messages made up by someone else that only require that we scribble our name before sealing the envelope. There will be a plethora of products exchanged next month – all in the name of love.
Those things are nice, and I’m certainly not saying I don’t like gifts. I do. In fact, I really do.
I’ve seen love.
It is the most beautiful gift of all.