My dad is settling into his new home, a Clare Bridge facility in our local Brookdale Assisted Living complex. He's doing really well, although I think sometimes the staff forgets the residents are people who still have the capacity to be embarrassed. My father has always been a very private person; even after taking care of him for more than a year I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen him without his socks on, let alone anything else. It was what made the assisted living decision for us, ultimately. He was uncomfortable having me help him dress and undress and use the bathroom, and so was I. So I had a little 'come to Jesus' meeting with the staff today, and told them to take an additional two minutes to explain to him what they're going to do, rather than just grabbing him and taking care of things like changing his clothes or showering. Hopefully, they'll listen. If not, we'll just be doing it again until they do!
After visiting with Dad, I came home to continue the work of packing my parents house. I can only take so much to a two bedroom apartment, especially when my daughter already lives there. But today I found things I simply cannot bear to part with. Today, I found the story of my parents lives.
My dad went into the Army when he was nineteen years old and was sent almost immediately to Europe. He spent the next 291 days in a war zone. He was a half track commander with two vehicles and ten men under his command, and the top rank he reached was Sargeant. None of his men were killed, even though they fought in the Battle of the Bulge and several other conflicts. Until I was over fifty years old, he never discussed it. But two years ago we wrote a family history, and he outlined his war time experiences in an essay he titled 'Tales From the Last of Three". It took me a while to understand what it meant.
My Dad had two brothers, Edward and Robert. All three of them served during WWII, before the law that 'Saving Private Ryan' is based on came about. My Grandmother had three gold stars hanging in her front window, in honor of her son's in the service. What a nightmare that must have been, to send all of your boys into harms way. I can't even imagine. By the time Dad wrote his 'tales', he was the last of the three sons left. Hence the title. But that short, succinct telling of his time in France, Belgium and Germany didn't tell even half the story.
Today I found a tattered, much taped box of letters. Every single letter he sent my mother while he was deployed, every single letter she wrote back. The paper is aged and darkened, and the edges are frayed, but the words leap off of the page. My parents at 18 and 20, desperately in love in a time and place where the whole world had gone mad. He called her 'my darling, beloved girl'. She called him 'my sweetheart'. They bring tears to my eyes, but they also reinforce something I've always known.
I was blessed to know that my parents loved one another. Every day of their marriage, good and bad, they loved each other. And I know why my dad's dementia became so much worse when she passed. He never had wanted to live in a world where she wasn't. Now his world is a little blurry around the edges, but it's so much less painful for him that way. She was his everything. To love and be loved like that is such an amazing thing. And I watched it, every day until the day she died. My mom didn't grow old gracefully; she hated every minute of it. But my dad remained devoted to her, remains devoted to her still, and after reading just a few of their letters I understand why.
I feel like I've been given a gift. One I'll cherish as much as they did when they first tied the ribbons around the letters and placed them in the box sixty nine years ago.