Our parents teach us many lessons. Sure, they sit us down and tell us important principles and ideas, but most of the lessons we learn from them are caught rather than taught. As children we watch. We absorb, and we are mostly unaware of how their actions shape us. It is not until we are adults looking back that we see where our values came from and how we learned what we deem important. As my parents age, I am becoming aware of some lessons I caught from them.
This Valentine’s Day, the example of their love stands out like a beacon for me. I am watching Dad trying to figure out how to love Mom in new ways during their winter season. Being apart is new. Covid shut down is brutal when he is unable to visit at all. How many ways does love transform over a lifetime? What form does the expression take when the tried and true ways no longer work? I see in him an ache to communicate with her. It is in his eyes. A desire to reach past her senses into her heart. The yearning to connect lives right out on the surface for all to see. Every possible sparkle from her which might mean recognition is noted. Each girlish giggle which might be a memory is interpreted. Each smile is latched onto and held dear. It is a thirst which cannot be quenched, only appreciated.
When the memory unit closed down due to the most recent surge, it made emotions run high. Tears surfaced easily, never too far away. This is a new form of love I have not witnessed before. The heartbreaking kind, the tears of love. Staff tries to facetime the two of them, and seeing her is better than nothing, but it isn’t the same as sitting with her face to face. Yet, he talks to her, with the voice I remember when he used to talk to me when I was a little girl. He is going to where she is and speaking in ways she might understand. That is one of the ways this new love manifests.
How do I love thee, let me count the ways? There are so many new ways. Another way is picking out things a child might like. He is fortunate he knew her when she was just 13. He remembers her likes and dislikes. He knows her childhood memories because he is in many of them. Stuffed animals make her happy. She got a bear for Valentine’s Day, in addition to the roses he has gotten her every single year since they have been together.
Feeding her and making sure she gets enough to eat is another way. She stopped eating, and so they asked him to come in to help because she eats for him. Now, he says she is eating pretty well before he even gets there, but they haven’t stopped him from coming. I believe they see his ache for her and they have made allowances.
He takes Oreo to see her just to watch Mom’s face light up. When the dog can’t go he takes a deck of dog cards and they look at each one. Mom laughs at some of them, and frowns at the big ones like she would be scared of them. She thinks these cards are new every time they look at them and his love never says he has seen them a million times.
Now that all the memory unit residents have gotten their vaccines, they have brought in someone to cut their hair. Dad told her how pretty she looked and she wanted to see, so he pushed her to the mirror where she smiled and looked at herself from every angle like a little girl. He stood and admired her too, with a grin and tears colliding upon his face…the new way of loving her.
These are the ways love looks. Much different from ways in the past, yet still a lesson for those of us watching. The care in the little things is precious. It is hard. But did anyone ever say love would be easy? How do I love thee? Let me count the ways… so many ways…