Wednesday, December 2, 2009

'Til Death Us Do Part

Faye and Ashley together just before they married. The pine tree was on my grandparents' property in Spokane.

When Capt. Ashley Chapman met Faye Latta in Spokane, Washington during the summer of 1944, how could either of them know what was ahead? We often guess wrong about the future. Captain Chapman knew he was going to Japan and has since confessed that he figured he probably wouldn't come back. He was training at Geiger Field, learning the new specs for the runways he would be building for the new bombers America was turning out.

He'd already served in the Atlantic and had money in the bank. He sent to Birmingham, Alabama for his parents and paid their way out West so they could meet the pretty girl he thought he might like to marry before he went off to war and died.

Faye and Ashley, swimming at Washington State's Loon Lake, just before they became engaged. Do they look happy, or what?

His father liked her and that was enough for Capt. Chapman. Their courtship lasted six weeks, their honeymoon was a few months long and then he was off to the bloody battle of Okinawa. The best man at their wedding was killed by shrapnel from a Japanese bomb just a few weeks before the end of the war. But my Dad made it back without a scratch. Waiting for him was the woman he had married in such a fever. Now they had the chance to get to know each other.

Honeymooning in Victoria, B.C. before the war divided them again.

Sixty-five years later, I was walking through the house they lived in for half a century, packing some clothes for my mother to take with her when they transferred her from the hospital to the bed next to my father in the nursing home. The house was cold, eerie, and empty. It always comes to this, for all of us, so why is it such a shock? Each of us must discover it.

All of their belongings were neatly stored away in the drawers and cupboards and closets. Accumulated over the years, they are all permeated with the smell of the moth balls my mother puts in all the drawers and closets. And none of the possessions means anything to them anymore.

My parents have been so much luckier than most people. Dad made it safely home from the worst war in world history, and he'd married a woman who shared his values so they stuck it out together afterwards, as many did not or could not. They prospered in what became the richest state in the nation and in what became one of the most exclusive towns in their region--a town they built a home in strictly by accident. The house they lived in for most of their lives increased in value sixty times and though my father made many wise investments their house was the best one of all. We haven't had to sell it yet to pay for their care, but if we do it will care for them for a long time. So they've already had the "better" part of their marriage vows.

Now comes the worse.

When they brought Mother into the skilled nursing facility on a gurney, my father grew very worried. My mother was not very lucid, but when she saw my father she brightened: "Oh, Ashley, I have missed you so much." They held hands and the nurse cried.

My father's dementia and his total deafness have limited his understanding and he could see that Mom looked like a very pale and tiny bag of bones. He kept asking me: "Is Faye all right?" Then he started saying: "Am I all right? I'm not all right, am I? Faye's not all right either, is she?" But he calmed down because he was tired and he went to sleep, as she did. They were back in the same room, not quite as they had always been, but together.

If you had told me they would both fall apart at the same time I would have laughed at you. A week ago, Mom was balancing the checkbook and doing the crossword puzzle and one day later we had to take her to the hospital, which she told me later was some kind of "Disney ride." She spoke of having conversations with people I know to be dead and "putting things away" when she was lying in the hospital bed. Ga ga? My mother? That is a shock.

Together throughout their married life, they are now both ga ga together. Mother's illness was, in a way caused by Dad's. When he had to go to the nursing home, she was alone and though I stopped by every day, I didn't know she had stopped eating and drinking water. The doctor told me this isn't unusual when there is a trauma in a person's life, for them to lose their sense of hunger and thirst. Then I remembered that when I lost my husband, I found myself unable to eat for the first time in my life. I didn't lose him as much as he was mis-laid, if you get my meaning. But it was still a trauma. I got very thin and beautiful and had many other offers, though, so it all came out right in the end.

In Mom's case it did not. By the time we got her to the hospital her kidneys were failing from lack of water. And, for some reason, her mind was also affected.

So there they were this morning after breakfast. Two wheelchairs. Two old people. Holding hands. They had vowed they would stay together until death parted them. And for better and for worse, they have shown they are both making good on the deal.

I had to sneak this photo of the two of them sitting together at the nursing home, so the focus isn't great. Mom's hair was wet from a shower, so I put it up in a towel. Dad has reached over to kiss her.

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Laura said...

Oh, Robin, your post is lovely. I am sorry that your mother has deteriorated so suddenly, but if it had to happen it's nice that she can be in the nursing home with your father. God Bless them both.

Robin Chapman said...

Thanks Laura. It is a little overwhelming, but it is good they are together. Dad is doing fine. Sometimes he calls Mom his mother, sometimes he says she is my grandmother, sometimes he says she is the beautiful Faye. So he's in the old people jail with several women in his life, all in the body of my mother. She's in the fetal position, but that doesn't seem to bother him.

Jack said...

Hi, Robin. I told participants at a caregivers' class a few weeks ago about your blog. Your comments have allowed all of us to join your journey in all its facets, without any glossing over of the difficult times, but celebrating the good moments as well. Joss Whedon wrote for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" when Buffy's mother died, that "Some minutes are better than others." That was the first time I encountered that modification of the standard 'days' version, but when my mom died, it was just like that. Each minute was different. As you allow us to accompany you, as personal as all of this is, know that you are helping us as we face further loss, and your blog will be available to future readers as well. I hope you will eventually share it through your local caregivers' resources (hospital, hospice, church, etc.). As with all deeply felt human experiences, it helps to know your own experience has been shared by someone before.

Robin Chapman said...

Thank you for your kind comments, Jack. When I had more time at the beginning of all this, I was in a great support group, and that experience helped me so much. Not just the kindness I found, but also the exchange of information and the helpful hits about how to handle certain things. People have been going through this since the beginning of time, but nobody can really prepare one for it. And, much to my surprise, it includes many moments of joy, with the difficult ones. This is something I could not have known had I not waded into this experience with the same determination that I have waded into everything all my life. Anyway, all the comments help me too. So please keep them coming!

Bob Liddle said...

Silence, sadness and smiles. That is all I can say.