I hadn’t seen Vera for years. Now I see her just about
every time Carolyn and I drive back to see Carolyn’s mother,
Beth. Beth lives in the Alzheimer’s unit of the
Methwick Retirement Community in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Recently, Vera moved there, too, and into the same wing of
eight residents. The first time I saw Vera there, she
was sitting at the dining room table.
“Yes?” Same welcoming smile and spark in her
“You won’t recognize me because I’ve changed a
lot, but you knew me about 50 years
“I did? What’s your name?”
“Trimble. . . . Now that’s a familiar
“In those days, I dated your daughter,
“Well, I always trusted Kathy’s judgment in who
“And this is my wife, Carolyn.”
“I’m glad to meet you, Carolyn.”
“I’m glad to meet you too. My mother lives down
the hall from you.”
“She does? What’s her name?”
“I don’t think I know her. I must meet her!”
Vera walked down the hall with us and we introduced her to
Beth. Although the two had eaten together each day for
several weeks now, neither woman recognized the other.
Still, over brief intervals, each made intelligent
conversation. In a few minutes, a staff person came by
and took Vera to the lobby for an activity.
Soon after that, I had to run an errand. I passed Vera
on my way out, smiled and said good-bye. She smiled
back. Then, with a quizzical look on her face, she
said, “Now you look familiar!”
I reminded her of our meeting twenty minutes earlier and she
said, “You know, I feel OK, but my brain isn’t much good.”
Later, when Carolyn left, Vera looked up. With
mock sternness she said, “Now young lady, you be sure
to go straight home!” Some of the gentle humor
of the former Vera was intact, even if her memory was not.
Every time we see Vera, our interactions are pretty much
like what I’ve just described. Sometimes, though,
she’s out, and from the checkout board we can see that she
is with someone named “John.” Until last week-end, I
thought John had to be a brother or maybe a grandson.
I knew that George, Vera’s husband, had died seven or eight
years ago, but with my blinders about her age and
disability, I didn’t think that John could be a boyfriend.
Last weekend I found I was wrong. As we walked onto
the unit, there were Vera and a nice, elderly man, sitting
close to each other, holding hands. As always, we
introduced ourselves to her. Then, Vera introduced us
“I’d like you to meet John. John is a gift George gave
me when he died. George asked John to take care of me,
and he has.”
Then they told us how they met, years ago, after John and
his wife had moved in across the street from Vera and
George. They told of their first meeting, and about
how the two couples had been friends ever since, until John
became a widower and Vera became a widow. Now John is
George’s last gift to her. They had just come back
from a Sunday buffet at the local VFW. I don’t know
how much of the excursion Vera remembered, but each seemed
pleased to have been out with the other.
Later, as Carolyn and I were saying good-bye to Beth, we saw
Vera and John ahead of us, kissing each other good-bye.
At the risk of sounding patronizing, I have to say it was
sweet. More than sweet, it felt like a privilege to
see this elderly couple, she with her dementia and he with
his cane and VFW cap, loving each other.
Once a friend and I were talking about Alzheimer’s and he
said, “I’ll tell you what, Ralph: If I ever get like
that, I want you to sneak up behind me with a big monkey
wrench and whack me on the head REALLY HARD! You’ll be
doing my family and me a big favor.” For all I know, many
people feel that way—but they’ve not seen Vera.
Vera seems to have moments of joy, even if she can’t always
remember them. Maybe we value memory so much that we
fail to notice how much else can remain even when it is
lost. Along with joy, the clear survival of Vera’s
curiosity, love and dignity gives a good message about the
nature of all humanity. From time to time, we need
May there never be monkey wrenches in places like Methwick!