Peter couldn’t remember much. But he never forgot the love of his life.
It was written in his tiny, precise scrawl. Penmanship from a different era when people actually took note of things and found them worthy of recording.
Marge: I love you.
Sorry that you are not here. 10:25am
I will try to catch you at a later time. I’ll be in my room later. I’ll try to get some sleep there this pm & hope to see you then. I love you.
I’m on the main floor. I don’t know the room number.
I love you very much.
And I miss you.
Love and kisses,
He couldn’t quite recall when he had seen her last. Was it Tuesday after exercise class? Maybe Monday after that nice lady had come to visit and deliver his new slippers? Was that Monday? Peter retrieved the small notebook he kept at the ready in his shirt pocket and slowly flipped through the pages looking for clues. It was something he had always done, even before remembering had become so difficult. He wrote things down to help recall things of importance about people, about cars. He was especially mindful of cars. He liked to keep track of people’s comings and goings and how, exactly, they were getting there. He had a soft spot for Chevys. Old Chevys, heavy on chrome, easy on the eyes. He wrote down stories he had heard, quotes worth sharing and jokes worth retelling. He studied each page carefully. As it was, despite every effort to remember, he couldn’t quite recall when or where he had last seen her.
I’m looking for you. Plan to spend the night here. I’ve registered on main floor. Looking for you. I have a guest room on main floor. I will keep on looking for you.
It was after he finally passed away that we found the notes. Dozens of them. Notes scattered in drawers, tucked into books, buried in pockets. Each a failed attempt in a personal quest to find his Marge.
I love & miss you. I went back and forth on most streets but have lost sight of you. I am finished my third round but no luck. I’m on my last legs. If I don’t find you I’ll go back to my room and hope to connect with you at a later time. I love you very much and will continue to look and ask friends if they have any news of where you are. I’m still looking and will keep on looking and asking about you.
All of the notes seem ironic because, at the time, I didn’t consider it a particularly noteworthy love.
They were never rich. In fact, poor as church mice was as fitting an expression as one could find for a pair of missionaries. A preacher and a preacher’s wife.
They weren’t overly educated but believed everyone should pursue an education and valued wisdom above all else. It is worth pointing out that as he aged and his soft, wrinkled skin began to droop, his eyes began to resemble those of an old owl.
For the food before them, the family beside them and the love between them, they gave thanks. They were typical of an era when marriages lasted a lifetime and silver wedding anniversaries were to be expected. Golden, too, if health prevailed. When in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, were covenants of Biblical proportion and spoken with a committed and unwaveringly clear voice.
The exchanges of vows gave way to more simple expressions of gratitude and love for one another. The little things that often go unnoticed. A meal prepared. A newspaper shared. A memory recounted. A hand resting on a shoulder. Gentle glances. Simple jest.
But at the end, it was in the form of notes. Attempts to stay connected as the four walls that used to house them together evolved to eight. She, still of sound mind and able body, residing in a tiny apartment connected by a corridor to him. He, in an even smaller space with access codes and nursing staff to keep him safe, not from the world outside, but from the confusion inside his forgetful mind.
The Alzheimer’s that took his memory made his notepad more necessary than before but never touched his gentle soul or generous heart. It is noteworthy that his heart continued to beat so strongly because it had already been repaired more than once from the damage of attacks and near failure. Yet it seemed to be growing stronger as time ticked and trickled and tricked him along.
You can feel sadness that his memory was disappearing. You can feel the frustration and pain of a family that wasn’t recognized from day to day. But it’s hard to feel anything but envy for that heart. In a time when Peter couldn’t remember much, he never forgot her. His Marge. The Marge he really didn’t know how to live without.
Unbeknownst to those who loved him most—each day in that locked-down ward had been a journey he had painfully navigated equipped with little more than a notebook, a pen and a mind that no longer recalled much of anything useful. At a time when he couldn’t remember if he had eaten, he woke up each day feeling a hunger to find her.
And in the end the fact that he had lost many of his memories was probably for the best, because it protected him from knowing he had also lost his Marge. He didn’t remember standing beside her coffin, or standing at her grave. He didn’t remember the prayers he had offered as he stared at her in that fabric lined box. As they lowered her into the ground he kept asking whose funeral this was.
Beautifully protected from the knowledge that Marge was no longer anywhere to be found, Peter spent the last year and a half of his life searching for her. He wandered the halls of that care home ward that he believed to be a hotel. Those halls he believed were streets and alleys and laneways that would eventually lead him to her. He looked for clues. He hunted for her. And he wrote his notes.
We protected him when we could. Played along. Made excuses as to why she wasn’t coming to visit. Fictitious appointments. Simple colds that she didn’t want to spread. Reassured him when he believed he had upset her. Talked about her like she was still down the hall when we could. Trying to fill that massive void with memories that lived like the present for him. But there were days it agitated him, her absence, to the point where we had to tell him. Again. His persistence was so unwavering and, while we never wanted to hurt him, from time to time we had to remind him that she was gone. That he wasn’t going to find her here anymore. And then he would have to grieve her again. And that was hell for us all. He lost her not just once but over and over and over again. He lost his cognitive ability. He lost his love. And that heart kept on beating and fuelling his search until finally it gave up, too.
It’s amazing what you can recall when you can’t quite remember anything at all.
He may have lost his memory, but it’s his heart I envy. And that love. That noteworthy love…because she left notes, too. And he kept those tucked beside his own.
I love you, even when I’m not here.
He underscored “love” and then left his own etchings on that worn and torn scrap of paper.
I will keep on looking.
This story was submitted by Shelley Lepp via the Contact Us page.
Peter and Marge were the writer’s grandparents. [ ]