The canoe slips through the narrow passageway just as the sun touches the water. As we round a corner, we spot a black-capped heron, poised for fishing, elegant with its delicate feathery head plume, powdery blue beak and long ivory body. He stares at us for a moment and then lifts his grand wings and disappears into the groves of elephant ear trees. Though we see him for only a few seconds, his beauty stays with us throughout the day.
So many times, when my mother was deep into her Alzheimer's journey, I rounded a corner and had a glimpse of her true depth and beauty. Then, like the heron, she disappeared into her own personal forest. But the image of her shining face and the excitement of the momentary connection remained with me.
She was one of my teachers in my journey into the heart of love.
Trade in Your Handsome Prince For a Guy or Gal With a Sense of Humor
"How long have you been together?" the younger couple asked Ron and me.
"Twenty-two years," we answered.
"Wow!" they said. They'd been in love for seven months and our decades-long romance must have seemed exotic and slightly unbelievable.
"What are the secrets of a good relationship?" they asked. "Please share your wisdom."
Ron and I basked in the idea that two people believed we possessed actual wisdom! Then we shared our insights.
Our insights had little to do with the stirring stuff of romance novels: they combined the Golden Rule (Treat each other like you want to be treated) with yoga principles (Breathe and be flexible) with Late Night Comedy (Humor is everything!) with the way we all wish high school testing went (There's more than one answer to any problem.)
Love Me Tender, Make Me Laugh, Always Have My Back
For five years, I've written a weekly love story column for the Kansas City Star Magazine. The practicality of true love continues to surprise me; although everyone likes a lovely romantic evening, here are some of the qualities people most love about their life partners and spouses.
- Loves me just as I am
- Takes care of me/Always has my back
- Makes me laugh
- Shares my values/ Complements me
- Works hard/ Is honest and reliable
- Always puts other people first/ Always puts me first
- Inspires me to be better/ Appreciates me
Love Climbs the Mountain Barefoot in the Rain
When Ron's father Frank was in a memory care unit, Ron's mom Mollie told her husband, "I love you so much." Frank replied, "Not as much as I love you!"
Those were some of Frank's last words and that sentence stayed with Mollie through and beyond her grieving.
During my growing up years, my father was circumspect in declaring his love for Mom. But when she slipped into dementia, Dad showed me what a true romantic he was. He treated her like he was courting her; he showered Mom with compliments and kisses and frequently he expressed his love for her. Even when she could no longer talk, she still enjoyed her favorite foods -- he faithfully fed her sliced strawberries and chocolate candies.
Some months ago, Oprah had author, visionary and cultural mid-wife Jean Houston on her TV show. "What do you wish people knew?" Oprah asked Jean.
"I wish people knew how powerful love is," Jean answered.
That was one of the grandest lessons from my journey with my mom through her dementia: the power of love. Her love lasted all her life, far beyond her memory of things and people. Her love was a spark that lit up her life and mine.