“Sweetie, Sweetie, Sweetie,” she said. Three times in a row. “My Sweetie.” Her eyes lit up and a smile crept up her cheeks. Her hands reached for him. His eyes filled with tears, as he reached back, “I love you so much,” he choked out. She leaned forward, lips puckered, reaching for a kiss. He obliged. The door alarm sounded but the nurse pushing her chair let it go for the moment. It was a beautiful moment, not to be interrupted by rushing it.

Once out the door, seeing there was more than just him there, she amended her statement to include myself and the dog. “Sweeties,” she said. Her way of acknowledgement. Pluralizing to include us. We pushed her over to a bench, so we could sit and visit. Then babble. Lots of babble. Her glassy-eyed stare not quite focusing on her dog while petting her. Mechanical motion. Her obsession with dogs from the past year, apparently gone.

She reached for him again, her Sweetie. Just to feel the contact. Rested her hand on his shoulder. She babbled incoherently. He patted her knees and nodded. Asked her what she was talking about. She said, “I don’t know.” He said, “Babble away, all you want.” She laughed. He laughed. A musical sound. Laughing together about nothing and everything.

Impatience got the better of her which is a role reversal of the greatest proportions. “Get going,” she says. We start our stroll through the garden. The babbling continues. We point out flowers along the way. The same ones each week, but to her they are new again. The butterflies didn’t catch her attention today. Instead, she reaches for dead blossoms to try to prune them off. We arrive at her own section of the garden, which needs preparation for the fall, weeds growing past the Martha’s Garden sign. It just peeks out and when she sees it, she claps. “There it is,” she says. She cheers the painted rock like a child.

He picks her a pink bloom and gives it to her. She accepts it with glee. Holding it. Twirling it around in her fingers. She wants two laps around the garden today. On the second time around, she finds a smooth rock, like a skipping stone in one of the plots and she picks it up. Holds it next to her flower.

When he sees it, he asks, “Did you pick up a rock?”

She looks down, surprised, “I guess so.”

They laugh again. We make our way back to the bench for another visit. More babbling. More laughter. Then it is time for her lunch, so we push her back through the door and she disappears. Our time over as quickly as it started.

The tears come now. It is like cutting your heart out with a spoon, this journey. One scoop at a time. The heart is raw. Always. Never has a chance to heal in between visits. It longs for more than babble. It longs for real conversation. It longs for deep connection. It longs to be known and to belong again to another.

Then the heart feels guilt, because so many would give anything just to hear babble. To hear the laughter of a loved one who has passed. They would rejoice to have thirty minutes in a garden. Yet, our hearts are overwhelmed with emotion. With grief. With sorrow. The longing to be with her the way it has always been. Not this way. This wandering, babbling, unknown way.

Our hearts are lost. Trying to find the way forward, when what they really want is to go back. The constant burden of this heartache is exhausting. The bittersweet of it all. The ups and downs. The Sweetie moments, mixed with the days of a fixed distant stare. The days when you want to pick up the phone and chat, only to remember those days are gone. The prolonged anguish is brutal.

But, our hearts try to be grateful because they are. For the days we have in the garden. For the laughter that is understood between two hearts that are connected always, no matter the circumstances or disease trying to separate them.  The deep connection we long for is right in front of us. Without words. As our hearts wrestle, long, and cry out for connection, we embrace relationship in whatever form it takes. Even in our emotional exhaustion, we celebrate the Sweetie days.  

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