What professional care giving taught me about marriage

He let me in the door. He looked afraid.

I was a substitute professional caregiver and no one told him I was coming, or he just couldn’t remember, another symptom of progressive dementia. I followed him to the kitchen, sat down at the kitchen table and tried to introduce myself again but he had a difficult time…wondering where Sharon was; his full-time care giver.

I tried to create conversation asking about his family, but he seemed confused. He did have a daughter who was responsible for his care. He must have been having a bad day…he couldn’t remember her either. However, as time wore uncomfortably forward, he did remember. She lived in Colorado or was it Chicago?

In most homes, the refrigerator usually displayed the identifying factors of life, love and the family tree. A colorful ‘Happy Birthday Grandma’ magnet caught my eye but his wife, he explained, had left some years ago though he wasn’t specific on a date, time or year, even whether she had passed away. He did mention that they had done a lot together, his eyes less fearful of his own loss of memory and my reason for being there. He was still not sure.

Though emergency caregivers were always briefed about the client’s condition and a file was present at every home with the most recent documentation, the refrigerator offered a compilation of discovery. It serves as a file of life, the latest pharmacies visited as well as medical clinics and an array of family photos of all generations.

I was told to clean up the bathroom upstairs in this tri-level home so I attempted to do so. But not without his companionship…he was suspicious while I constantly tried to reassure him.

As I began to pass a bedroom, a miniature dark blue Victorian two-story dollhouse with white trim dominating most of the room, caught my attention. It was huge, my eyes wide with excitement since I had a passion for the small and lifelike.

It started with the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago when I was young. The Colleen Moore Fairy Castle, the dollhouse of her dreams and every young girl who spied it, containing over 1500 miniatures; Jack and Jill tumbling down the hill in one room, Cinderella’s drawing room, and King Arthur’s round table in another. Every fairy tale imaginable was displayed in the castle.

This beautiful Victorian sat on a platform that extended pretty much the length and width of the bedroom with workbenches surrounding it along with a few cabinets…low against the walls for materials.

“My wife and I worked on this together,” he spoke in a small, peaceful tone. “We worked on everything together up until the end.”

Each room was intricately decorated with furniture from the 1930’s and 1940’s. Each room was uniquely wallpapered sometimes with wainscoting or borders as he pointed out who did what. There were clocks, and artwork that adorned the walls along with bookcases, removable books, and ornate oriental rugs that covered the floors. He still knew what switches worked as he lit each room; one adorned with a Christmas tree for the holidays, even rooms designated for the grandchildren with dolls and toys.

He described their fascination for completing the house. How they began, their challenges with each room, there determination to work together. And it was then that I glimpsed how the Victorian represented the floor plan of a marriage.

The porch was somewhat empty compared to the rest of the home and he knew I noticed.

“That is where we had to stop…that is when she…” He did not finish his sentence and walked out of the room.

He sat back in his chair in the kitchen, lost in confusion for a brief moment. “Who are you?” He asked again somewhat disturbed and we called his daughter to explain. She was able to get through to him, but during my brief time there, he was quiet, still not sure of the next moment.

Before leaving, I noticed that each room in the dollhouse was still glowing with soft light…even the Christmas tree blinked with color.

“The lights in the dollhouse are still on,” I reminded him.

At first he looked at me with fear, and then his eyes finally relaxed as he thought.

“Maybe I will keep it that way,” he said.

Finally, I got it…my own lights shimmered in realization. The collaboration of the Victorian dollhouse truly defined the magic of what marriage should be.

Not just words of endearment spoken between two on a journey but the action taken to building a meaningful partnership. Enthusiastically addressing the challenges together displayed in various rooms. Passionately obtaining knowledge and recognition to improve each other’s craft.

Not a superficial marriage, as many dollhouses can display, but an ongoing demonstration of how to truly stay in love. Regardless of his Alzheimer’s, he was able to remember the details of his love; offering him peace during moments of question.

Ultimately, he had taught me the true meaning of unconditional love; how it is challenged and how it can be rescued.

In the end, what else matters? I knew then that I wanted to travel the same glorious journey in my own life.

Now, he and his Victorian Dollhouse remind me of my destiny; the beginnings, the struggles, the joy and the finishing touches, as I build my own dreams of love, companionship and total commitment to the one I love.

Picture: Courtesy of the Strong Natural Museum of Play

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