Alzheimer’s…dementia…call it what you like. It’s a shocking disease that affects our elderly, but you don’t really understand its many and varied effects until you have personal contact,this story is republished in respect of those who care for those suffering this illness.
GEORGE was awakened – as he had for the last 20 years – by the morning sun spreading her warming rays through the partially-opened curtains on his window.
His morning routine never varied either, shaving and dressing part of a routine he had learnt from his Army days, so long ago now, with the memories re-surfacing only when he allowed his memory to wander.
George shuffled down the corridor of the old nursing home he had come to call home, and as usual knocked on the door of number 23. A thin weak voice asked him to enter.
Marge was sitting at her dressing table, brushing her long hair…hair that used to glow golden in the sunlight but which now had turned to white. Marge had been a resident longer than George, but nursing staff had noticed they developed a mutual friendship. They shared each other’s company, enjoying long walks together, and were always playing cards or listening to George’s old phonograph records.
As Marge put the finishing touches to her hair, George reminded her it was time for breakfast, and offered his arm as they shuffled down the corridor to the dining room. They were always the last to arrive, and the last to leave, sitting at the table they had shared for many years. Other residents respected the fact that it was ‘their’ table, and no-one else ever sat there.
The breakfast conversation always the same…the weather, the change in seasons, especially Spring, with the emergence of the daffodills and marigolds in all their rich new colours.
George had replayed this conversation for 20 years now, and never tired of watching the shine in Marge’s eyes as she recalled every piece of the awakening of each season. He loved to see the shine in her eyes as she recalled forgotten days from her childhood.
Breakfast over, they were, as usual, ushered from the dining room to allow staff to prepare for the day’s dining regime.
They wandered out into the garden for their daily walk. Marge loved this time of the day. The sun gave her warmth, and brought out the girlish colours on her parched and ageing skin. She allowed George the privilege of holding her arm as they strolled down to the big old Maple tree, the one with the old bench that they had sat on for over 20. George remembered it well, but for Marge, it was a a bench she sat on for the first time each day.
Marge’s face lit up as George told her all about his life, and details of a grown-up family. She asked questions about his children, and how many grandchildren he had. With infinite patience and understanding, and with a far-away look in glistening eyes, he told her about two sons and a daughter, and give details about a granddaughter and two grandsons. Marge would sigh wistfully and tell George how much she enjoys hearing about his family.
He asked Marge to tell him all about her family, but she flatly refused.
George recalled their very first conversation, on that bench under the old Maple tree, when Marge confided that she had a medical condition, and couldn’t remember any of her past life…that’s why she loved hearing all about George’s life, and his family.
The morning slipped away as the two old friends shared company and friendship, until Marge asked George if he would mind helping her back to her room. She was tired, and wanted to have a small nap. George helped her to her feet, and gently escorted her back to her room. But they would, Marge insisted, have their usual afternoon card game, and listen to George’s old phonograph.
George ambled down the corridor towards his room, also with the intention of a morning nap, when he spotted Marge’s medico, Doctor Graham. As they stopped for a brief chat, George asked how Marge’s tests were progressing. Doctor Graham knew the relationship between the old couple, and had no hesitation in telling George the truth.
“As you know,” he said quietly and deliberately, “Marge has a medical condition whereby she cannot recall her past. We have done every test medically possible, but can’t explain her condition. What we find perplexing is that every few years, Marge comes out of this condition and can recall all of her past, every bit of it, in great detail, but these instances only last for about half an hour before Marge fades back into a world that is a complete mystery to the medical profession.
“I’m sorry George…that’s the way it will always be…but you are a great comfort to Marge, and in her world I am sure she knows and feels the love and comfort that you bring her.”
George retired to his room, but sleep was as elusive as a butterfly. He pondered the ways of the world and the many vagaries of life, and wondered how, in old age, these earthly emotions of love and memories take on such huge proportions in an ageing mind.
As he drifted off to sleep, his last thoughts were about Marge’s emotions and feelings if she actually came face to face with her past.
George and Marge were in the habit of having their midday meal in their rooms, and late in the afternoon George would get his deck of cards and his old phonograph, make his way to Marge’s room.
Today they played cards quietly, enjoying each other’s company while listening to George’s favourite old dance records. As one record finished, Marge suddenly threw her cards onto the table.
“How come you never visit me like you always used to?” she asked.
George saw a look of complete comprehension in her eyes.
“You never tell me about the children, or how the grandchildren are doing,” a distressed Marge continued.
George sighed; “I visit you every day and tell you how the children are,” he replied softly. “Also, as you know, that shop of ours takes up a lot of my hours.”
“Tell me about the children, and how the grandkids are doing at school,” Marge asked.
George gently took Marge’s hand, and proceeded to tell her the full story of her illness, and went on to tell her all about her children…the same story he had been telling her for the past 20 years as they sat under the old maple tree. He passed her a faded picture of three beautiful children with their grandchildren, and the tears cascaded down her cheeks.
George told her about their sons. One was a doctor, the other a barrister. Both had boys at university…their daughter was married and had given them twin grandaughters.
Marge listened quietly, tears continuing to fall, and made sure her frail hands were clasped in his.
George gazed into Marge’s eyes and saw the overwhelming love that he was also feeling.
“Would you like to dance with me?” he asked.
As Marge got to her feet, George moved over to the old phonograph and selected a record that he recalled playing for her only six times. As the music started, he took her in his arms, and wrapped in each other’s embrace, not saying a word, they did a slow waltz around the cold nursing room floor.
The years fell fell away as the two lovers danced their way back through time, and many memories…days and nights of carefree love and laughter… the world was their oyster…and they were the pearl, a pearl of magical colours, combining to make two hearts as one.
Marge gazed into George’s eyes and told him of her undying love. “I have loved you since the day we met,” she said. “I know I have been sick, and that you are with me always. I feel you in my arms every day, and I will feel your love in my heart for eternity.
“This time George, I don’t think I will be returning. We are getting older…time has flown…but just remember that I will always love you.”
George was also crying as he held her close, whispering in her ear that he would always be by her side, and that their love would never die.
The record finished playing and, as old 78s do, went into a scratching mode.
Marge suddenly pushed George away, demanding to know what he thought he was doing…and asking why he was in her room.
George could see the vagueness in her eyes; “It’s OK Marge…I’m just helping you back to the card table,” he said tenderly.
“I don’t want to play cards any more,” Marge said. “I”m tired…I just want to lie down.”
George helped her to the bed and made sure she was comfortable.
“And take that infernal scratching machine with you,” Marge said…”it’s giving me a headache.”
George asked if she wanted to play cards again the following day, and got a polite but brief nod before she asked him to leave.
George picked up his old phonograph, glanced back at the bed as he closed the door, and with tears in his eyes whispered words that only the angels could hear….”I love you Marge.”
Nights can be long and lonely in the nursing home where George and Marge lived.
As Dawn broke through the windows, heralding the start of another new day, the night nurses were logging off as the new shift began their first rounds of the rooms.
But Marge couldn’t be woken. She had finally left a world of dreams and memories that only she could understand. In her hand was a faded photograph of three young children.
The young nurse made her way back to the nurses station to report her finding to the sister on duty.
The sister told the nurse to advise George, as she knew that they were the best of friends.
George’s room, unusually, was in darkness. George had also found peace with the only love he had ever known.
His face was calm, with just the hint of a knowing smile on his lips.
The only sound in George’s room was the scratching of a record that had been playing on the old phonograph.
As the nurse turned off the player, she glanced at the title of the record that had been obviously playing all night. It was ‘The Emperor’s Waltz.’
The young nurse wasn’t to know it was the waltz that was played on a wedding day many years before she was born…a waltz for two young hearts that had sworn eternal love. and who now waltzed among the stars, locked in each other’s arms – and hearts.
Many years later, as the old nursing home was being demolished to make way for a new sub-division, a work crew came across an ancient phonograph in the cupboard of a boarded-up storeroom. An old LP record was still on the turntable.