You know how it sometimes happens (or used to, before cell phones): you’re sitting in a waiting room and get to chatting with the person next to you. It’s usually small talk, but friendly.
I was in O’Hare airport. It was almost midnight and the gray haired woman next to me was clearly tired. But courteously, she told me that she was going to visit family in California and asked me where I was headed.
“I’m going to my parents’ fiftieth anniversary celebration,” I said.
She paused. Then, “We almost made it to our fiftieth, my husband and I. Forty nine years and nine months.” A big sigh. “He was such wonderful man. Kind and responsible and somehow always there for me and for the kids.” I waited as she paused again, looking into the distance across the gate’s waiting area. “But then he wasn’t so present. It all began to change when he got Alzheimer’s.”
“Oh, no,” I thought. “This could be tough to hear.”
She went on. “I took care of him at home until he died. It was a little over seven years from his diagnosis.”
“That must have been unbelievably hard,” I offered, somewhat tentatively.
“Yes. And the hardest was when he no longer recognized me. For four years, without his recognition, I used to watch him and wonder where he had gone inside himself.” She shook her head, still gazing at something in the distance that I couldn’t see.
“Then, just two weeks before he died, I came into the room where he sat during the day. As always, he looked up at me and his puzzled frown appeared. ‘Who are you?’ he asked me, as always. And, as always, I said, ‘I’m Lily, I’m your wife.’ He shook his head a little. Usually, he went silent after this.
“But on this day, he smiled a little and then held both his hands out to me and said, ‘Well, whoever you are, I love you.’”
She fingered the wedding ring she was still wearing. Then she turned to face me and looked directly into my eyes. Hers were calm. “It was enough,” she said. “It is enough.”