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Thursday, Jan. 31, 2002
It would not be at all considered the best of pictures.

He has taken to putting his hands within the waistline of his pants because he does not know otherwise what to do with them. I have my arm around him and we are both smiling, but his smile is the confused one of someone who knows not why he is being photographed.

He has shrunken both in mind and body. What was never a tall man has become a stooped and frail being who lives in the pale world, the place between. His wife of some 60 years is at once near and untouchable. His mind like a child's flits between where he is, where he was, and never touches solid ground.

I had my sister in law take the picture at the end of a two day trip to Pennsylvania, the purpose of which was to move my mother and father from the small home they shared into a retirement complex. My father has dementia, has taken to wandering about the small Amish town they lived in on a lost journey which started as a walk around the block. He forgets, he remembers, he sails through days where routine is his only comfort.

My mother is a quiet shadow of herself, weary of the care he requires, the need to keep an eye on him all her waking hours. It has taken its' toll. And yet she, like my father, is in good spirits. They are the kindest of people, they have few complaints. Their delight is in each other and the simple life they share.

So their children assembled and put them into a place where sharing that life will be much different. After 60 years, they no longer share a home. They will in fact share only a few waking hours a day. He in a lock down ward with constant care and supervision, she in a more conventional apartment. 200 feet apart, yet it might as well be 200 miles after 60 years of being together as one soul. My father smiles and is content when he has his wife within sight. She is the reason for his life, the one person whose name he does not occasionally forget, the one who has fed and soothed him through his decline, his strokes, his aging.

We moved their belongings into this place and recreated two separate homes where once there was one. We left behind so many little things that they once had because there was simply not enough room for them in this facility. A condensed version of home. A lesser version of life.

I stood in the window of my father's new room and watched the Amish farmer across the way plow a field. He sat astride a shearing plow pulled by four horses with huge hooves and long manes, slowly turning over his 100 acres of good Pennsylvania soil. He wore a wide brimmed hat and dark trousers held with suspenders. Back and forth he went, intently watching the ground beneath him change from plain to richness, opening up in four foot wide swaths. My father watched too, for a moment. It was familiar to him, this scene. It comforted him that some still did this in the old way, the way sure to be best for the earth.

I wondered, and wonder still if my father would live to see the corn arise from that ground.

Because when she left him to go attend to her own room, his one constant, the fright that he felt was palpable in the room. In five minutes he wondered where she was. In ten, he asked again. If he could just see her, he wondered aloud. Just for a moment. Could he see her? Could he touch his lifeline and reassure himself that life was still going to be the same?

No. He could not.

I think of him right now, at night, in his little room. Does he lie awake with fear, knowing that she is not by his side to attend to him? That she has left for some distant shore and not taken him along? What anguish he must feel. What longing.

I turned to leave him yesterday and saw the light of familiarity in his eyes. He knew me. He smiled and told me how good it was to see me. I kissed his head and hugged him even as he asked yet again if he could see his wife just for a moment. I felt the tightness in my throat, the ache of this being the last moment that he and I would ever share in this life. And knowing it. He didn't know, couldn't know. I knew, just as surely as his goodness stood before me, that it was the last time.

My sister in law and brother walked out, walked past the locking doors which held Dad in place, walked out into a warm Pennsylvania day. My brother stepped away and left his wife and I there by the car, and she stood with shoulders shaking and face wet with tears. I pulled her to me and we stood, sobbing and miserable with the knowledge of old age and lives gone by and earth fertile for plowing.

It hurts sometimes, this life of ours. It has moments of ending that are final. Nothing to say, nothing to be done.

The Amish man sat and watched his four horses pull him around the field.

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