I met Jimmy through my dad. They are in the same support group of men caring for their wives who have dementia. The group has grown, but Dad and Jimmy were part of the original three. Their friendship is born from the shared pain and vulnerability of being caregivers. Dad gave Jimmy Words to the Weary because watching your life partner fade away makes you weary. They both are well acquainted with the physical and emotional strain of the road they are on.
Since we met, I joke with Jimmy that he has become my biggest distributor. He has given my book to his friends and family. He has donated copies to a homeless ministry and some group homes. He has given it to people in all areas of his life. He has bought more books from me than anyone else! He and Dad have made me a superstar at the Lanier Village Estates. People there stop me in the hallways to thank me for writing my book.
Since Marie lives on the same hall as Mom, I have seen her decline up close. Each week, I go into the memory unit and watch Jimmy feed Marie one bite at a time. At the beginning, she used to walk around and sit with us while we visited Mom. She gradually lost mobility, until she was confined to a chair and totally dependent on Jimmy for every meal. She could no longer swallow, so her food was pureed. We could all still speak to her, but it was evident she wasn’t connecting anymore.
Marie died today. I am sure Jimmy’s heart is broken. The dementia journey breaks your heart one piece at a time. To see your soulmate drained of all vitality, crushes your spirit slowly. The burden is a heavy one to carry. Yet, love transforms the sacrifice. The devotion with which Jimmy cared for Marie is love personified. It wore him down, but daily strength was infused by the life they shared. The commitment of so many years together would not walk away.
Love doesn’t leave. Love lingers. Even in the lingering. Marie was not alone in her suffering. Jimmy suffered right along with her. As she became a wisp of herself, he sat beside her. He was not afraid to look at her in her distress. Love looks. Love sees. He did not turn his face away. He walked with her to heaven’s door. He held her hand and didn’t let go until he dropped her off at the gate.
Is there relief? I can imagine the relief is immense. Marie is healed now. Free. She isn’t suffering any longer. But I also imagine, the suffering hasn’t ended for Jimmy. A new phase maybe, but the separation, after being side by side for so long, is its own kind of pain. The hole in the heart is enormous. The feeling that part of him is missing will likely be with him until his last day. Holy grief. Sacred tears. Each one caught and stored in bowls by the throne of God.
God, I pray that Jimmy allows the tears to flow, but that he also gets some rest. The past few years have been brutal. Please renew his strength, and honor his devotion by lifting his heavy heart. Give him sweet memories that erase the painful days. Catch his liquid prayers. Infuse him with your care and kindness, as only you can. Bring healing to his heart now and in the days to come. Surround him with your peace and with support from family and friends. Hold him close, Lord. Comfort him with your presence. Amen.