My mom and dad recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.
Quite an accomplishment, but they celebrated it, not in the comfort of their own home or in the home of one of their children, but at a local nursing home.
My dad, unable to care for my mother at home any longer because of her advanced Parkinson’s disease, was forced with the reality of having to let others care for her.
He wasn’t happy with that, though. He wanted to be there with her. So, although his mind is as sharp as ever, he had enough physical infirmities to qualify for skilled nursing as well. Since my mom can no longer be easily transported, the three of us kids decided to have a little party for them there.
I thought long and hard about what kind of a gift we could get for them since they have no room to keep anything.
Yet I felt that it should be something special for being together 60 years. I finally decided to have a large, canvas print made of them dancing at their wedding. My mom, young and beautiful, with her head gently cocked to one side as my dad presses his face to hers.
My dad, fresh out of the Marines, all teeth and ears, with his wavy hair, looking handsome in a Dean Martin sort of way. I thought that they would love to hang it on the wall in their room as sort of a conversation piece for friends and passers-by. People could see that they are not just two old people in a nursing home marking off the days until their lives are over and that they lived full and happy lives and were once young and beautiful with their whole lives ahead of them. I was right. My dad said that it was the best gift that anyone had ever given him. He carried it out to the dining room to show to all of his friends. People stop by and comment on the picture, but also linger awhile to get to know the couple in the picture.
I visit my mom and dad on a regular basis, but I often wonder why it is so hard for many of us to set foot in a nursing home. Maybe it’s the idea that I can see in my mother’s fearful, empty eyes the destination of my own life’s journey. I still enjoy visiting with my dad, who still has a sharp wit about him. My mother, on the other hand, slips in and out of reality, mostly in a state of fear. I wonder if they knew, when they were dancing in that picture, so in love, that they would someday end up in such a place.
Yet I see now that my dad loves my mother more than ever, to give up everything else in the world just to be there with her.
Come to think of it, maybe I really bought that picture for myself. So that every time I go to visit them, I can see them that way and remember that they are not just two old people in a nursing home marking off their days.
Sarah Anderson lives in Joplin.