And it gives you a warm smile inside for days, years… okay, decades.
Growing up, my son, Tyler, was a typical boy. Classically non-verbal, on top of his emotions, not a kid who enjoyed having his mom kiss him goodbye and yell out, “I love you, baby,” as he was exiting carpool. Go figure.
Not a big conversationalist: one year he said, “Yup”; the next year, “Nope.” I used to say that if someone came to me and reported, “Tyler just took out 23 people with a sub-machine gun from a bell tower,” I would shrug my shoulders and respond, “Could be. He seemed like a nice kid, but who knew?”
Well, I should have known a little better because with his Nana, he was a treasure. My parents and my family lived only a mile apart so Tyler and his Nana were in each other’s lives. They had adventures together – just the two of them. One day a play; another day a trip to the museum. They were buddies.
When my mom was in the incipient stages of Alzheimer’s, it was confusing and sometimes funny. But not for long. After a few years my Dad felt he could no longer handle the demands of the disease. A fractured hip and incontinence broke him. So my mom was placed in a nursing home close by. I asked Tyler if he wanted to talk about Nana, but he just shook his head in withdrawal. It made me sad and worried.
Valentine’s Day was special for Tyler and Nana. Nana always bought Tyler a heart shaped box of candy. But now there was no candy, no card asking him to be her valentine. Another cherished ritual had been taken hostage by this unforgiving disease.
As I walked into the hospital that day, a nurse told me I had just missed my son. Odd, I thought. But entering my mother’s room, I got it. There, on her nightstand, was a beautiful red box of heart shaped candy with a card next to it. On it he had written, “Nana, please be my Valentine. I miss you. Love, your Tyler.”
It didn’t matter that he was quiet or seemed unemotional. There were so many more layers to be pealed. I had to remember that when Tyler came to see her. Nana would take his hand and give a small wistful smile. And I hang on to that memory, convinced that as much as this hateful disease robs you of, you still remember love.