The velvet soft touch of a single red rose reminded me of the man who had been my Valentine for thirty-five years. The scent of Old Spice transported my mind to the hot summer day when I met a broad-shouldered boy with curly blond hair.
Jim created magic with his Fender guitar, and his smooth, rich voice wooed me with romantic love songs. By summer’s end, our long, intimate conversations and physical attraction created a special bond between us, and ensured that ours was not merely a summer romance.
Our romantic love evolved into a deeper emotion as we settled down to married life and parenthood. Jim’s music, our closeness, and family became components of our daily existence. We bonded into one being, and Jim frequently said, “I know you better than you know yourself.” The truth of his words was proven as he became my sounding board for all life’s major decisions.
Early in the disease, our romantic love remained intact as we united to cope with the devastating diagnoses. As the dementia progressed, romance gradually disappeared, and I adapted to my shifting role in our relationship. Jim began a downward spiral toward a childlike dependence on me, coupled with a trust that I would protect him.
The stress had taken a toll on me. If I was at home, I was dealing with Jim’s outbursts of anger, or moments of total confusion. When I was at work, the caregiver would call when Jim was out of control, and I would return home to manage him. Jim began to wander off, and I became adept at finding him. Eventually, I realized he needed to be in a safe place where more than one person could provide his care.
Dementia laid waste to my husband’s brain and the disease caused an underlying layer of grief that permeated my innermost emotions. For the past ten years, the erosion of Jim—husband, father, grandfather, son, brother—relentlessly stole him from his family’s grasp.
Jim began to exist on a different level, another plane of existence, than the rest of the world. He seemed to be in a faraway place, occasionally glancing back to recognize those of us he had left behind.
I walked into his room at the nursing home on Valentine’s Day. I hugged him, closed my eyes, smelled his Old Spice cologne, and was once again holding a broad-shouldered, blond-haired boy on a hot summer day. Perhaps, we were together in the same faraway place on that special day, and he remembered me, and knew I was still his Valentine.
Copyright © February 2023 by L.S. Fisher
Note: Jim mailed the Valentine to me from Vietnam in 1970 in an envelope with postage marked "Free."