Monday, February 15, 2016

the kind and unexpected thing

it's the day after Valentine's Day. my husband and i have been bonding for the past five days but not as valentines. on thursday he had shoulder surgery... not the awful kind that takes weeks to recover from, but traumatic enough that he has been unable to drive or lift or pick up things or put his own clothes on at first.

in all these years of marriage, he's only been really ill two or three times, so he is not used to me taking care of him. i'm not used to it, either, but it's just part of what we do for each other, part of the bargain we made almost 35 years ago, though he at times in the past few days has seemed surprised when i have willingly cut up his meat if needed or helped him slip on his socks.

i remember years ago when he contracted pneumonia and could hardly get out of bed, i brought up some canned chicken and rice soup one day for lunch, and he was overwhelmed at what felt to him like enormous generosity. and that was years before i began making soup from scratch! had i been that unkind to him that it was a new experience when i was not?

the day after the surgery he told a friend i was a saint. drugs talking, surely, an a couple of days later i'd lost my sainthood, as was expected.

i've been thinking about this a lot today, about how people care for those they love in all sorts of circumstances. three years ago it was my mother's turn, when after almost 63 years of marriage, my father contracted pneumonia himself and spent the better part of three months in the hospital. Eighty-four at time time, my mother drove to see him 45 miles (one way) almost every day, and as each day passed, she grew to be more beautiful. i know he saw it, too. 

(my husband can't say that about me, because i didn't even shower today til close to suppertime — well, to be fair, neither did he.)

my mother never balked at caring for my dad, giving up her days (but not her hair appointment) to make sure he was getting good care.(maybe it was because of all the times he cared for her through broken hips and other bones, though i doubt that played a role.) he barely talked, yet he knew she was there and doing more than he ever expected of her, to the point that she ended up in the hospital herself. it never crossed her mind that she might ought to stay at home.

i suppose on ordinary days, i have stopped going out of my way to do kind and unexpected things for my husband, though somehow i expect him to do unexpected things for me. i know there have been too many days when i stand at the stove cooking supper that i think: maybe this will be the day that he does so and so for me, when in fact, his just walking in the door and kissing me hello should really be miracle enough. kind and unexpected enough. but i have not been appreciative, i know.

maybe that's why he has been so surprised at my attempt at care, that finally, in his hour of need, i have done that kind and unexpected thing. i am embarrassed, if this is the truth. i thought i had been more attentive to him all these years.

why is that, when you're married so long that you forget that the small, personal gesture is truly important? in the beginning of a marriage, it's all we can do not to do kind and unexpected things, to work at what we hope will be a lifelong love. But it's the lifelong part of it that when you're young, you don't quite understand. at least i didn't. it includes days when you don't like each other, and when you have to do small but important things for someone when you'd rather not.

love creates such tangled hearts.

in these few days when my husband has been a bit immobile, we did get out for a short trip to a dessert store so we could test a few cake samples for the rehearsal dinner (i)  we are planning for our son. my husband is the dessert fan in our family, so i made go. 

on the way home, knowing we might be stuck with ice or snow, we stopped off at the grocery store so i could grab some orange juice. 

i go to the grocery store pretty much every day, which is neither efficient nor particularly enjoyable, but it's i what do. i made him stay in the car because h  is rarely patient enough to follow me through the aisle searching for things i don't need.

on the way out, i recognized an elderly couple i've seen before. the wife shuffles, often unaware, it appears, of her surroundings, yet her husband takes her down each aisle as if she will be the one to choose Folgers over 8'oclock, decaf or regular.

on this day, they had not made it inside as I came out with my orange juice (and oranges and green onions). his back was facing the store, and he was pulling her along.

in an instant, another shopper and i saw her ill-fitting jeans fall to the ground, bearing her tiny wrinkled bottom to the world. we stopped, trying to help her husband pull her pants up, but it was a struggle. the young woman shrugged, assuming i had the situation at hand, though the truth was far from that.

as a diversion, i'm sure, i found myself thinking of my grandmother — though this couple was about the same age as my mother — and made an attempt to save her dignity.

she wore no belt, and her frail body would not, without one, keep the pants up. so her husband and i held her jeans as we moved her gingerly into the store, seating her on one of the motorized carts they keep for handicapped shoppers. naively, i thought she might stay.

'i didn't know she wasn't wearing a belt,' her husband said. 'she has Alzheimers,' looking at me as if i didn't know. 

though i offered to shop for him while he waited, all he wanted was a rope to tie the loops of her jeans together so he could pull her along while he did the shopping. a clerk found one, and together we threaded the rope through the loops, she batting at my hands as i tied the loop into a knot so he could get on with his shopping.

'she's doing pretty good,' he said, introducing himself as Ralph. 

'and how are you doing?' i asked, almost in tears.

'the best i can,' he said. 

'family nearby?'  

'yes, but always gone.'

always gone. like me? i hadn't seen my own mother in about six weeks.

i imagined this man at 58, my age, and how their love story had evolved into this — her sitting in the handicapped cart with mittens on the wrong fingers, her jeans stained with her own excrement, unwilling to accept help from anyone but her Ralph.

but he insisted i not stay. so i didn't.

at home, the two of us made a pact that we would never allow ourselves to be this way with each other. maybe they could not afford help he said, which made me want to search for every Ralph in my extended neighborhood until i found them, so i could give them enough money to change things for them. but how? 

later, when i couldn't sleep, i imagined what other kind and unexpected thing Ralph might be doing for his wife in the middle of that sad night. and i could feel how alone he must be, no matter how he loves her.

it's likely that this small woman did a lot of kind and unexpected things for Ralph as he made his career. she raised their children, and when they were the age of my husband and me, maybe he had some kind of surgery, and she took of him, made him soup and helped him put on his clothes, and he is doing the same thing, in kind, and in love, still, and even though, he really, really, needs someone to help him.

+++

my husband is much better, though an ice storm has kept us homebound for five days, and so today we escaped to our corners and set to work. 

later i made supper. he cleaned up. now he sweeps the kitchen floor, which for years has been his favorite thing to do when the evening ends.

expected. yes. but a kind thing that does not go unnoticed on this night.



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