On a bitter cold January day I received an invitation for a very special gathering. I was a bit reluctant to accept, yet I knew I needed to attend.
My husband Richard had passed away at Christmas the month before, and I’d been asked to join in on the memorial service being held at his group home. For residents and staff, it’s often difficult when one of their own passes on.
I knew it could be an emotional event for me. But I chose to wear a smiling face and left my house with some M&M cookies in hand. They were for the ‘other’ woman living in the group home who adores them, and who I knew adored my husband even more.
As I entered the home, I was quickly ushered into a warm, sunny room filled with yellow tulips along with staff members and residents. The staffers were already sharing their remembrances of Richard through their sniffles with tissue boxes ready nearby. A couple of them mentioned they’d wished they’d known him before the dementia masked his great wit and intelligence.
“I could always detect a twinkle in his eye,” one of them told me with a bright blue twinkle in her own.
Together we watched a DVD of touching photos assembled from the 2 1/2 years my husband lived in the group home. Many of the pictures were of holiday parties held for family members and their loved ones.
There were also photos of special outings made into the community. Richard was fortunate that he was able to participate in most of them, despite the severity of his dementia.
I saw pictures of pontoon boat rides on rivers and crystal blue lakes as volunteers helped the residents fish. There were shots too of them at their favorite Mexican restaurant and on journeys taken to theaters and apple orchards in the fall.
But I could see in the pictures that Richard’s favorite outings were those made to area art museums.
Before my husband was diagnosed with his illness, Richard worked as a curator in one of the museums he would later visit while in the group home. On one of his first outings as a group home resident, Richard traveled back to his former employer.
Shortly after arriving at the museum, the guards noticed Richard was starting to wander off from the docent leading the tour and from the rest of the group. He had risen from his wheel chair and was slowly entering a secured area. But the guards decided to bend the rules and let their old friend and co-worker go on inside.
The guards carefully followed Richard as he traveled down each of the long, dark hallways back to his old department. Richard finally entered, smiling at his former administrative assistant sitting right there before him. Just like always.
A few more stories about my husband’s museum visits were shared at the memorial service by a tall, kindly male resident who was Richard’s best friend at the home. He had always taken it upon himself himself to look out for him. The two of them communicated so well even though my husband only spoke a couple of words while living in the home.
“Did I tell you that you have my sympathies?” Richard’s friend asked me with a long face and a few tears in his eyes.
He had in fact asked me several times, but I was happy to hear the warmth and sincerity in his voice as he asked the question yet again.
Suddenly I noticed the emotional sharing of stories about my husband was getting difficult for the other woman who was sitting across the room. She looked visibly upset. I walked over and attempted to comfort her by saying how fortunate we both were to share Richard the last couple of years.
Soon the smell of coffee brewing led us all over to the dining room for ice cream as well which was a favorite treat of my husband’s while at the home. I also opened up the box of M&M cookies I’d brought for the other woman.
I slowly sat down next to her and patted her hand for a while as we both ate our treats.
I’m thinking Richard would have been happy looking at the two of us sharing bowls of ice cream and those cookies together.
I know for sure that lovely other woman and I definitely were.
Our smiles said it all.