by James Toland
“The hardest part is thinking about all the plans we had, all the places we were going to see and the stuff we wanted to do... it's all gone now,” Larry said to his daughter on the back deck of their rural farmhouse, his eyes brimming with tears. “We just . . . we had a plan, you know? I feel like we’ve been robbed of everything we wanted to do.”
At 62, Larry never imagined he’d be starting from scratch. He and Veronica had always played it safe. Raising three kids had been the crux of their time in their 30’s and 40’s. Driving on snowy gravel covered country roads from this game to that. Spending weekend nights sitting in the old auditorium listening to them singing and seeing them don hand-sewn costumes at the school’s musical.
That was their world, but Larry and Veronica always kept an eye on the next step. Smiling together at night, after the kids were all home and safe in their beds, about the places they’d go and the things they’d see.
By 50, the kids were off at college, or married or moved away. The looming prospect of time to themselves seemed delicious and within their grasp.
Years of financial planning, saving and being patient so when the time came they would be able to go where they wanted, when they wanted and live out the rest of their days how they wanted had been their focus.
There’s no clear moment, looking back now, when it all changed.
So many people lived their busy lives and stuff would slip their minds from time to time. A missing set of keys. Making the wrong turn at a stop sign on a road that had been traveled hundreds of times. Forgetting to put a name on the bottom of a check mailed in to pay a bill. These “senior moments” happened to everyone.
Why would Larry be concerned when he noticed Veronica was having them more and more? After all, who didn’t have those times when they said the wrong name while referring to one of the grandkids? They had so many now.
Who didn’t stand up from a couch and then sit back down as the purpose of the intended trip slipped their mind? That’s just part of getting older.
Everyone’s mind had “slip-ups” from time to time and the end result would be Larry and Veronica having one more moment together to laugh at their foolish, aging selves and shake their smiling heads.
But before long, it started to be less and less funny and more and more frequent.
Before long, Veronica was not just forgetting to sign checks, but was writing her name on the “amount” line. Before long she couldn’t recall how much she was supposed to write check for or where it was supposed to be sent, although the bill was sitting in front of her. Before long, Larry got a call because Veronica was uptown and the police had stopped her because she had been driving the wrong way around the town square and almost hit a car.
Still, it didn’t seem like anything to be concerned about to Larry. So he’d write the checks to pay the bills. So he’d do the driving. He didn’t mind. There was no reason to upset the children. There was no reason give the gossipy townsfolk a new thing to whisper about.
He’d figure out how to fix this problem, just like he fixed all the stuff around the farm. After all, this was his wife. They had put together all the pieces of the puzzle which was their future. There was still so much they wanted to do.
“Depression,” proclaimed the small town Doctor. “She doesn’t get out much anymore. You two need to get out and we can give her a script for depression meds. She’ll be better after a few weeks and we can adjust the dosage as we go.”
Depression, of course. Larry and Veronica were so relieved. The kids had started noticing in phone calls and birthday party conversations that something seemed off. Larry was guarded but decided that since a simple, clear, fixable conclusion had been drawn, it was time to let them know.
Everyone was concerned, but relieved. Take some meds, get out more, enjoy life and watch the situation get better. It was time to plan for the future again. Talk about trips. Visit the grandkids.
Months later, the dosage increased but so did the “slip-ups”. Conversations were begun and never finished. Larry kept searching for signs that the meds were doing their thing. He kept telling himself to give it time. There was still so much time. They weren’t even 60.
He figured they had a good 20 or more years left before the kids could take over in their final years together. Probably end up sitting in two rocking chairs on the front porch together, watching the sunset over the farm each night and sharing a bottle of wine. Larry smiled at the thought of these grey-haired versions of themselves, blankets on their laps, giggling together after having one too many glasses of Merlot.
She didn’t get better. Everyone stopped laughing at the “slip-ups.” The kids became concerned. They went to the University to see a specialist. This time there was no pill to help Veronica. It no longer mattered if she was or wasn’t depressed. It was clear now that no dosage would cure what ailed her.
We invested a lifetime in building a future, how do I start from scratch? Where was the fairness? It doesn’t make any sense. We did everything right! Larry let his mind rage into the darkness of their cold bedroom.
“Why them?” the kids wondered.
“Why her?” Larry shouted at the heavens.
One of the most difficult things for Larry was that he got a front row seat to it in the years that followed. The relatives who stopped in from time to time and told him how good she looked, how “with it” she seemed to be. He would wrench up a smile from some place deep down and thank them. That’s what Veronica would want him to do.
They weren’t there when she woke up in the middle of the night, with no idea where she was or who he was. They weren't there at meals when she tried to use two knives to eat her sandwiches. They weren’t there when he had to remind her how and when to use the restroom or take a shower.
Everyone meant well and Larry felt no ill will. He knew they were just trying to help; trying to be encouraging.
The kids came over more and more. The grandkids became more and more uncertain about how Grandma was going to act. They started to wonder if today she’d know who they were. But they didn’t mind, they still wanted to visit. To play with Grandpa. To tell him about school and their games and maybe make him smile again.
One day it became too much for him to do by himself and Larry succumbed to the fact that Veronica was beyond what he alone could give her. The “home-help” people came and did what they could. When they could do no more, they found a long-term home for her to live in. When they could do no more, hospice took over the last days.
Larry cried at the funeral. They all cried and held each other and remembered and talked. Larry cried as much for what never came to pass as much as what had been lost in the process.
But through it all he kept Veronica in his heart and in his aging mind. He tried to find comfort in the smiles of their kids and the sounds of laughter of their grandkids, where, on a "good day," for a fleeting second, he could almost see her again and hear her again.
And in those moments, Larry remembered.
And in some way, it became the only peace his heart could know.
And he made it enough of a reason to keep going.
And he braced himself to start from scratch and build a life, at 62.