On July 26, 2006, my family went out to eat with my parents' neighbors Jack and Sarah who, over the years, have become like surrogate grandparents to my brother and me. The dinner was sort of a farewell celebration for us, as my brother would soon be leaving to teach English in China, and I would be moving to New York City in five days. At dinner, I was reminded of how meaningful and enchanting it had been to watch Jack and Sarah age over the years.
Meaningful in that I would not have said that they were then shells of their former selves because they were still very much alive - and often lively - and well - but sometimes physically not-so-well. Sarah was a former executive with astounding vocal skills; Jack was once an engineer who continued to dabble in a variety of interests and hobbies. Their yard, which was once the envy of the neighborhood and where my high school friends gathered two years in a row to take prom pictures, had become overgrown with underbrush and weeds.
And enchanting in that they had shown such dedication to each other through the constant perils of Sarah's struggle with Alzheimer's. Sarah had begun to forget who we were and it had been difficult for our family to helplessly watch as her cognitive abilities began to fail. But despite having to deal with a variety of other health ailments between the two of them, they had managed to age with class, style and grace.
That July night back in 2006, Sarah's mental clarity was touch and go, dipping her breaded chicken in coffee, forgetting which salad plate was hers, and asking what she should do with an orange slice garnish - typical actions of an Alzheimer's patient. It did not bother me at all, though it made me a little sad to see her in such a state. Nevertheless, there were moments of vivid comprehension when Jack would say something familiar and she would look at him as if they were on their first date. He returned the gaze and sometimes reached over to pat her on the hand.
In an effort to keep Sarah's mind working, Jack probed her with sporadic questions.
"And who am I?" he asked, posing the question as a fond joke rather than an interrogation method to make sure she was still with us.
Sarah looked up from her plate and announced proudly, "You're my man!"
Minutes later she was breathing heavily and appeared paranoid, tugging on the drawstrings of her pants and on the verge of tears. Later, when Jack joked with her about a personal matter, she leaned in affectionately, squinted her eyes at him and said, "You be good now!"
Even if it was only for fleeting moments, which were becoming fewer and farther between, it was apparent that Alzheimer's was having a hard time battling that little thing called love.
I hope that I age as they did and get to know that kind of love that Alzheimer's has to struggle to beat.
Sarah died a few years later, and Jack lovingly remains an important and influential member of our family. But I will always remember how Jack and Sarah looked at each other. It was as if they only saw what they remembered they looked like in their youth.
Just like whenever I look at their yard, I only see curtains of roses and fountains of honeysuckle.
Idaho was for them.