Richard and Becky – A Love Story
At the end of every summer we make the long road trip with our two dogs to Calumet, MI, a tiny town of 800 people, more or less, in the Keweenaw (key‘-wah- nah) Peninsula of Upper Michigan. My remaining siblings arrive a few days later in dribbles until the house is full. This September was no exception. The family was together for our annual family gathering. It consisted this year of my niece Lynda, and my remaining siblings and spouses except Esther and Ruth who were too ill to travel this year.
Lynda and I headed to the grocers for cache of fresh veggies. ‘Why don’t we go to the little roadside stand out on the highway first and get what they have, then fill in at the store?” she asked? “Great!” I said.
The guy in charge was there alone. He was a big burly fellow past retirement age. Lynda engaged him in greetings. “How are you this fine day?” He looked at both of us with the most beautiful smile that went all the way to his kind eyes under bushy brows and said: “Well, Becky says I’m perfect, so I guess I am!” We laughed together. “And who is Becky?” I asked.
“Becky is my beautiful wife. She wasn’t feeling well today or you could meet her. She has Alzheimer’s and she doesn’t know who I am anymore, but she likes to come along most days and sit in the truck. Everyone greets her. She loves people. “
As we got more of the story, which Richard was so happy to share, we realized he left a good job in California some years back and took over a family farm in lower Michigan as Becky started failing in her abilities. Then, when even that peaceful setting began to agitate her, he got the idea to move to her childhood home far north in the Keeweenaw Peninsula. He hoped the familiar surroundings and people would bring her comfort. It meant giving up everything, but that was nothing if it helped his precious Becky.
And it seems this IS helping her. While she didn’t remember him anymore, she did relate to the surroundings of Calumet, where little has changed over the years. She seemed happy here. She comes with him to the market every day and sits in the truck. Everyone loves to greet Becky and engage her which usually makes for a good day.
The sweet joy we saw in Richard’s face as he talked on about his treasured wife was so moving and inspiring. The tears trickled unchecked down his cheeks, but his eyes never ceased sparkling. He believed mind-altering drugs are for the benefit of the caregiver and just further inhibit the mind of the patient so they have been doing it medication free for the past 13 years. We know it can’t be easy.
I recently got a copy of the book “36 Hours” which was so insightful as to what people experience as the caregivers for a loved one with the debilitating disease of Alzheimer’s. I haven’t read it completely yet, but I was certainly given a picture of Richard’s day to day reality. Thirteen years! And still so much love and compassion flowed from this man.
We mostly listened for a long time and then we asked Richard if it would be ok to pray for him and Becky. He was most grateful. We held hands and prayed together that they would be blessed in every way. Richard said “Well isn’t this something!”
And it was.
I truly felt like we were living “The Notebook” I saw that movie many times and I cry every time over the amazing love one person can feel for another, no matter what. Richard WAS James Garner. The funny thing was… I have driven by that stand many times over the last 4 summers and if it was open, there were always at least 3 cars stopped. We talked for probably 45 minutes and no one stopped and interrupted us. How cool is that?
This encounter, besides making me feel like I was in a surreal movie, brought me face to face with pure love.
True, mature love like Richard exhibited is
*Kind – Richard was kind to Becky. He was always thinking of what might trigger a memory or bring a bit of joy to her day. He talked of taking her down to the Waterworks, for instance. She couldn’t form the words, but it brought her obvious pleasure to relive Lake Superior and the beach at that certain spot.
*Unselfish – Richard didn’t think too long and hard about anything he was giving up when he moved from California and gave up his job and their home. Nor, after putting a lot of labor into restoring the family farm in lower Michigan, he thought nothing of walking away from it to move to Calumet if it would help her.
*Sacrificial – Read a book on caregiving for someone suffering with Alzheimer’s and you will realize 13 years and counting involves days hugely filled with sacrifice. Everyone knows the produce stand will open when he can get there. Depends on how the morning duties go with Becky. There are no set hours.
*Respectful – The entire conversation left me with the feeling that no one in the entire world had more value than Becky. There was total respect and honor heaped on this dear woman who had little idea at this point what a treasure she was to this man she no longer knew.
*Purposeful – The plans of every moment of Richard’s day are designed to create comfort, a sense of security and love for Becky. He seemed to have no higher purpose.
*Exciting – Every time Becky showed some sign of recognition of something, it was a stellar moment and so exciting to Richard. While he was realistic in his expectations, each day seemed to bring some excitement over a moment of lucidity or obvious pleasure in Becky’s demeanor.
*Anticipatory – Richard never once talked about “When Becky goes” or “When this is over” or I don’t know how much longer I can do this myself”. No! Not at all!! This dear man was talking about how this might help or that might help. I shared with him information on an exciting video I saw about the benefits of coconut oil in treating Alzheimer’s. I encouraged him to look into it. (video and book)
*Joy-filled – Joy to the point of tears, happy tears were very present in this short encounter. The fact that he was still permitted to have Becky by his side to love and care for brought Richard great joy.
I know without a doubt that Richard loves Becky. I am pretty sure Becky somehow knows she loves Richard, too. After all, she tells him he is PERFECT!
Maybe you have personally experienced the difficulties of this terrible disease in your family. Here’s an opportunity to share your walk. What you did or didn’t do may help another who is following this blog.