Recently I watched a couple I know as they sat and talked. He explained the jobs he’d had in the past and why he’d chosen to leave one and take another. She asked some questions. She commented on a story in the newspaper about a local politician, and he asked what she thought about that politician. Then she asked if he liked a particular sport or ever played it.
Was this a young couple just dating and getting to know each other? No, this is a couple who have been married over 50 years. Both have some dementia or the beginning of Alzheimer’s. They still sound reasonable to each other—and occasionally to an eavesdropper like me. Until I suddenly remind myself that she is asking him about his career in a past that she shared with him. And in that past, before their minds clouded, they would not have had to ask the other’s opinion about sports or politics. She would remember hearing his stories repeated many times over the years. As he would hers.
It was a bittersweet scene.
Bitter. The time is coming when one half of this marital bond may not recognize the other. In death a spouse leaves the other behind, but in dementia only the mind of one spouse leaves the other for a different world. I pray for this couple, who seem to be at similar stages in dementia, that it might progress at the same rate, continuing their blissful ignorance.
Sweet. The scene reminds me of some traits of a long-lasting marriage. Couples grow so alike that some start to look alike—as this couple does, down to the shade of their gray hair. The long-married share so much that (minus dementia) they can finish each other’s thoughts, not just sentences.
The scene also made me think of my own marriage winding its way toward the five-decade mark. I know what story my husband is about to tell when he starts the first sentence. Sometimes before. And he knows mine. (Restraint comes in letting him tell it without interruption.) I know that when we meet new people he’ll introduce me as his first wife (read “only” here) or his 19-year-old bride, and we’ll see some very confused expressions.
Someone once said, “Love is what you’ve been through with someone.” That’s nowhere more true than in marriage where our beginning pledge involves incredible loyalty and perseverance: “’til death do us part.” That means we’re in it for the long haul. Even when that haul seems uphill and backwards and is much harder than the happily-ever-after stories our childhood conditioned us to expect. Even if that haul someday means we are together only in the realm of diminished capacity—awaiting the day we’ll be ushered into an eternal realm of glory where nothing is diminished.
Maybe Solomon was talking about this long haul when he wrote in the Song of Songs (8:6 NIV):
Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.
“Love is as strong as death.” And, in a Christian marriage, sometimes stronger.
Vicki Huffman is the author of four Christian books (one novel, three non-fiction) available in print and e-book on amazon.com. A Secret Hope, Plus Living: Looking for Joy in All the Right Places, The Best of Times, and Still Looking: Finding the Peace of God in Job Loss.