Thanksgiving dinner was set. Everyone was satisfied with having eaten just enough to not have
room for dessert at the moment when my daughter was being teased for not having a boyfriend.
Before you could say anything, my mom interjects, “You don’t have a boyfriend? I do.” Under
“normal” circumstances this statement wouldn’t be too surprising. But let’s take a look back for
a moment. We had just moved my mom to an assisted living community near our home as her
Alzheimer’s Dementia began to reveal itself on a regular basis. So, now my mom has her own
apartment in an assisted living community, and a boyfriend? Who is this man?
A self-made salesman near Chicago turned business owner in California grows a family with a
loving wife who unfortunately succumbs to cancer, leaving this patriarch to age gracefully on his
own. Yet, he finds himself in an assisted living community in Southern California struggling
with physical challenges as he approaches his 90’s. In progressively ailing health, he struggles to
find the inspiration to move forward. One day, as fate sought to intervene, the Activities’
Director of the facility played matchmaker and asked if he would sit next to and welcome their
new guest on the outdoor patio. And as they say, “That was that.” Love had stricken this man for
a second time.
Here I was, watching my mom begin to act emotionally like a schoolgirl. It drove me nuts. I
struggled every day knowing what most likely lay ahead was not a pleasant rode, yet, my mom
was happy, happier than she had been in forever. My mom’s love for music forged quickly with
this man’s talents. He began slowly and consistently to woo my mother by taking advantage of
her love for music as he began to assemble a very thick notebook of songs that they both loved to
sing together. (Great, now they’re singing together. This is getting a little too serious for me). I
must admit that in the back of my mind always lingered the concern of what dementia would
bring into my mom’s life, relationship or no relationship. But this guy just wouldn’t leave my
mom alone. They ate together. They sang to each other. They held hands at community events.
My wife and I even took them out to dinner, mainly to check this guy out.
After becoming convinced of this man’s honorable intentions with my mom, I began to address
him as Jerry (well, that is his name). As the symptoms of dementia began to grow within my
mom, I witnessed a manifestation of love that I did not get to see as a child. The more
challenging the disease became, the greater Jerry’s unconditional love revealed itself. From
walking slower to walking with a walker and ultimately a wheelchair, Jerry stood by her side and
assisted her both physically and emotionally. I would rarely ever seem them apart unless one of
them found themselves in a hospital battling illness. But their love helped them overcome each
short-term illness and return to each other with a renewed motivation for whatever lay ahead of
them. Capacity for daily exercises began to dwindle. Jerry’s love grew. Mobility slowly declined
and Jerry’s love grew. Ultimately, my mom’s capability to eat disappeared and Jerry’s love
grew. During many, if not most, of my visits, I found myself interrupting my mom and Jerry.
Yet, near the end, I could see the worry and fear begin to plant seeds of uncertainty in Jerry’s
eyes. And still, Jerry’s insatiable desire to have my mom “get better” drove him to keep pushing
her to “stay awake,” “open her eyes,” or “sing with me.” Only days before my mom became bed-
ridden, a remarkable moment took place. As my daughters and I were visiting grandma, Jerry
leaned over and gently moved my mom’s head from sliding downward in the wheelchair. He
said, “Birdie (mom's nickname from Alberta), we never give up.” He repeated this phrase a few times. And just when I wondered if my mom was even conscious and aware enough to realize her surroundings, she opened one eye and slowly mumbled, “We… never.. give up.” OK, this is one of those moments when you want to just burst into tears from the emotion of the moment. Overlay some music on this moment and you have the makings of a Lifetime movie.
...Finished loading the last of my mom’s things into the truck from her room. As my wife and I
walked back into the room, there sat Jerry, all alone just looking at the bed where my mom once
lay. “What am I going to do now? I told her not to go anywhere and to WAIT for me.” I looked
at Jerry and told him two things. “Birdie lived as long as she did because of you. And she IS
waiting for you Jerry, just not here anymore.” Jerry is fortunate enough to have loved deeply
twice in his life. Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder what would this journey have looked like
if it weren’t ‘for the love of Jerry.’
Founder & Developer of Thepowerofnext.org and the NextListener.com program