The Silent Warrior

My dad has fallen ill the last few weeks. He has developed a flu-like illness that has depleted much of his energy and drained his typical charm and charisma. It’s not unusual this time of year in nursing homes. Lots of bugs go around and it’s something we’ve learned to navigate around. ‘Tis the season. Like everything else, you just adjust. And you wash your hands.

A lot.

When I have visited him this week, I have found him listless and in bed with a new companion by his side. A wheelchair. He has been too unsteady to stand, so for his own safety, he has been transported here and there with these new wheels. I noticed his walker was folded and leaning against a wall in the background. Times seem to be changing.

His typical bright greeting to me has been replaced with a groggy and sleep-filled smile. My attempts at breaking out in cheerleader-mode to get him out of bed, (“Hey, DAD! Let’s get up and go for a walk!”) have been met with heavy sighs and “Oh, honey, not today.”

I really shouldn’t complain. My dad turns 88 next month so I guess I should give the guy a break. I would be knocked out, too, if the flu came calling at that age. But easier said than done.

I’ve spent a lot of time at The Inn (his term for his nursing home) lately because I’ve got my eye on him. I know that at his age and debilitated condition, a simple flu-like illness can wreak unexpected havoc. People his age don’t bounce back so easily. So I’ve been creeping around, hanging out with his nurses and aides (who I’ve come to know and have become quite friendly with) and hovering around The Inn as I negotiate visits inbetween carpool pick-ups and kid playdates. 

We’ve dutifully added the “God bless, Grandpa” phrase to our nightly prayers and I’ve been emailing my six brothers and sisters – several who live in the midwest – to give them updates and funny anecdotes, so they can feel part of the process, even though we all know they sometimes feel helplessly out of the loop when my dad becomes ill.

I’ve tried to be a good daughter, fun-loving mother, engaging wife, and available friend, but truth be told, when an illness or problem strikes with a parent, things can get a little topsy-turvey. I try to figure out where I am needed most and race there accordingly. It’s a juggling act that I am sure is not unique to my family. It can be stressful, but I do not like pity parties, so I will not be inviting myself to this one.

But surprisingly, this story doesn’t belong to my dad. Not today. For I’ve discovered there is a power-player far more important right now. This person remains largely in the background, yet wields great strength and influence.

This person has been my father’s companion, best friend, partner in crime, caregiver, and steadfast supporter for the last 62 years. It is my mother that I tip my hat to for her bravery and unwavering love for my dad.

For the last 6 years since my dad has been at The Inn (where he struggles with the slow-motion thief that they call Alzheimer’s,) my mother has quietly and without fanfare, visited him almost daily. She often joins him for their lunch date in the Inn’s “restaurant” (dining room) and walks with him afterward upstairs to the third floor when his afternoon nap calls his name.

My mother lives in town, a short 5 minutes from The Inn, in a single-story home directly behind her church. She patiently answers her phone when my dad calls her repeatedly, asking when she will be coming over to visit. When I have been at her house and the phone rings, I hear her cheerfully answer the phone as if it is the first time she heard his voice that day, instead of the seventh.

Now, that’s love.

A few weeks ago, I popped over to visit my dad after lunch and found my mother in his room “tucking him in” for his afternoon siesta. I don’t know why, but I stood there in the doorway for a while without letting her know I was there. I just stood and watched.

I saw my mother lovingly and gracefully pull his covers up around his neck as he lay motionless in bed. She smiled sweetly as he began to softly snore. I watched her pat his shoulder gently and stand there staring at him, satisfied that he was safely launched into sleep-ville. It wasn’t unlike a mother checking on her child. It was pure sweetness.

With my dad’s present illness, my mother was discouraged from visiting him for a few days so that she didn’t  get sick herself. She complied, though it was hard for her. I kept up my daily visits so he wouldn’t get lonely and every day he would ask me where she was and why she wasn’t visiting him anymore. When I explained it was because he had been sick, he couldn’t understand. He’d think about it and then say, “But she always comes to see me every day.” I replied reassuringly, “Maybe she’ll come tomorrow, Dad.” He’d nod and drift away.

After 5 or so days, I could see that both my parents were really missing each other. I spoke with my dad’s nurse who mentioned that perhaps they could visit in a “common area” like in the living area downstairs in the lobby. It was a large, ventilated area that would be much safer than her spending her visit up on a closed floor.

So I called my mother and told her she could come over that day to see him. I decided not to tell my dad. I thought it would be a nice surprise.

Yesterday was the day. I went to see my dad right after I dropped my daughter off at school. He had just finished breakfast. I wheeled him over to the couch in the lobby and pulled up a chair next to him. The first thing he said to me was, “Have you heard from your mother?” I said, “Yes, dad. I talked to her a little while ago. I’m sure she’ll visit you soon.” He looked at me pensively and said, “I sure hope so. She used to visit me every day. I don’t know why, but I don’t feel like myself when she’s away.”

I bit the inside of my cheek to chase away the tears welling in my eyes.

15 minutes later, I glanced out the window to see my mom’s 2001 white Honda Accord slowly creep into the parking lot. I watched as she took her walker out of her car and moved slowly to the main entrance.

A few steps later and she was inside The Inn. I met her at the door and gestured to where my dad was sitting in the next room over. She walked right over to him and stood in front of him. When he looked up and saw her, his face lit up with the widest and most joyful smile. “My DARLING!” he shouted exuberantly. They embraced slowly. She straightened his collar and sat down in the chair across from him. I watched as an immediate look of peace washed over his face.

All was well again.

I remember thinking, in that moment, how incredibly lucky I am. The greatest gift my parents ever gave me is the love they have for one another. My mother loves my father unflinchingly. She is like a silent warrior, forever in the background, yet always available at a moment’s notice. 

No matter who her husband becomes as he is molded and shaped by memory loss and occasional illness, she is there. She loves him without fail.

It is the greatest love story I’ve ever known.

A gift from God.

I am grateful.

30 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. muffintopmommy
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 18:22:46

    Would you stop making me cry already!!
    Beautiful post and what a beautiful couple. And holy smokes, you look like your mama! It’s so nice to hear about unconditional, lasting love when we’re besieged daily by stories of 72 day marriages. Truly.


  2. Phyllis
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 18:40:38

    I’ve seen this scenario to many times and can never decide who has the harder time…the person who knows their memory is failing or the people who have to watch.

    You are a lucky girl Teresa to have been raised by such loving parents and then to have married the person (yes Steve) to be able to carry on the love that you will show your girls.


  3. Kathy
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 19:46:03

    Beautifully written, thank you for sharing.

    I feel much the same way, especially as my dad has been ill these past few weeks.

    We are blessed.


  4. sue williams
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 19:52:35

    You are a true and worthy steward of your parents’ love, Teresa. And God bless you for not being stingy with it. The lucky ones now are sweet Josie and Ruby who will grow with that rich, gracious love around them.

    Your story is a wonderful, albeit tear-filled reminder of how important it is to live every day spent with those we love.

    Keep up the good work, darling.

    oxox, Sue


  5. kim
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 19:56:03

    Thank you for sharing your story. It brought me to tears. Such a beautiful love story. So well written.


  6. Elaine
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 20:52:04

    Life is too cool not to share! Even the sad and touching moments. Thanks for sharing your story.


  7. Beth Violette
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 20:56:09

    Absolultely lovely. Thank you for sharing with is this wonderful love. What a gift it is.


  8. Tommy Acuff
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 21:05:30

    My Dad had bypass surgery today. I spent 11 hours at the hospital, and I just got home. I’m exhausted. My mother’s been there, going through all this, and will continue to be there until he comes home. And this has been an ongoing process for the last 3 weeks. It’s truly inspiring. Thank you for your post….I appreciate it very, very much.


    • "Not now, honey. Mommy has to Blog."
      Jan 14, 2012 @ 07:17:02


      Thank you for your comment!

      First, all the best to your dad! Hope he heals up quickly. It is a scary time, I’m sure, but sending wishes for a fast recovery.

      It sounds like we have a lot in common. I’m glad you can relate. It is inspiring to watch our parents in action, isn’t it?

      Wishing you rest and comfort, and again, thank you!


  9. Kelly Sedinger (@Jaquandor)
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 21:07:32

    Sheila O’Malley tweeted a link to this…and I’m so glad to read it. I’ve had a week where I’ve literally seen three different marriages (people at work) start to unravel, two because of infidelity. This has me thinking a lot about my own marriage, and your parents’ story isn’t just heartwarming. It heals. Thank you for writing this!


    • "Not now, honey. Mommy has to Blog."
      Jan 14, 2012 @ 07:14:16

      It’s great to meet you! I appreciate you taking the time to stop by and read my post. Thank you!

      I’m also happy to hear that it offered a glimmer of hope during a discouraging week.

      Your comment means a lot to me and I’m very touched that it helped you.

      All the best!


  10. lindyjayne
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 21:21:17

    I have always loved your stories about your parents. They are such an amazing example of love & family. As are you. I’m sure Ruby & Josie will share similar stories about their folks as they get older.


  11. Shaunda Wenger
    Jan 14, 2012 @ 01:13:23

    I am so glad they have each other and you! Love conquers all. Beautiful story and example of it. Prayers to them that they get back to their daily routine soon.


  12. Kristen
    Jan 14, 2012 @ 05:52:50

    Eloquent writing. The “circle of life” is truly wonderous in itself and to see this real-life love story embed throughout it all is so touching and inspiring. God is good!


  13. julie
    Jan 17, 2012 @ 13:36:03

    The best love story!!! You are Graced and Gifted!!! Your stories light up my life, but not without jerking a few tears!!! Encore, Encore!!!!!


  14. Cheryl
    Jan 19, 2012 @ 07:43:19

    Teresa, you have such a gift! Your writing is beautiful, and it exposes what is truly beautiful — your outlook on life. At a time when you could be cursing sickness and age, multiple obligations and responsibilities, you stay focused on love and hope. Your parents helped to make you what you are today, and I’m quite sure your two little ones will carry forth this gift for the future. The world needs more Trees!!

    Didn’t know you had a blog; hope you don’t mind if I follow…

    God bless —


  15. Shelby Ronan
    Jan 21, 2012 @ 21:01:04

    Amazing love story, you are all blessed


  16. Pat
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 22:47:04

    Mom’s unconditional love is truly amazing. Especially after all he’s put her through. You’ve captured it well.


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