Love is so precious. Some of us have experienced it while others only hope that someday, somehow it will happen to them. One of life's great mysteries is how two people come together and truly fall in love. There are so many obstacles to love these days. The world has become a more fractured place, with lives lived in silos of experience. We rush about making a living and planning for the future, leaving little space for someone else to enter our lives. Even our social lives seem like a whirl.
Every once in a while you come across a true love story, made better without any Hollywood-imposed sentimentality. I found one in the April issue of Speechwriter's Newsletter, published by Lawrence Ragan Communications in Chicago. Normally this publication is speechwriters' recollections of their experiences with the likes of Jack Welch, Bill Clinton and President Bush, but the latest issue had a story right from the heart of a healthcare speechwriter, who displays not only great courage but also maturity and decency.
For a decade, Emerson Moran was a speechwriter at the American Medical Association. At a press briefing on Alzheimer's disease on Jan. 15 in New York, he delivered a moving speech of his own about his wife, Pat.
"The first time I saw Pat 20 years ago, it was like in those movies when they freeze the frame. My frame froze. I've been with her in that frame ever since. What I didn't know for years and years was that Alzheimer's was in our frame, too. Pat's Alzheimer's was diagnosed five years ago-but had already been controlling our life for a long time. We just didn't deal with it. Denial is a powerful force. Now I'm not going to stand up here and script for you one of those Sunday night made-for-TV movies about killer diseases and heartbroken families. We're going to get through the next few minutes without any tissues."
Moran went on to describe the stages he and his wife went through trying to maintain a normal lifestyle once she was diagnosed. "We tried to perpetuate our old way of life for a long time, and then reached a point where it made no sense, where our old normal didn't work anymore." They began their new way of life on Labor Day weekend 2002 and it consisted of moving "985 miles straight down I-95 from Washington to Florida, leaving behind old job, old home, old normal." He then stated, "A week later she didn't know who I was."
By moving and starting a new life, "What we hoped to do was to carve out a way of living that would: keep us together as many hours in each day as possible; embrace Pat with care and comfort and laughter; allow me to work from home; and prop me up with enough emotional and physical support to keep us going. ... We put Pat and Alzheimer's in the center, with work kicked out there in orbit, not an orbit of its own, not quite on the edge, but not in the center, either. This is pretty easy to articulate after the fact. But let me tell you: We're talking about radical, uprooting, life-altering, mind-boggling, heart-thumping, cliff-jumping change."
He continued talking about his wife's caregivers and how wonderful they have been to them both. He talked about his wife's medications and how they have helped. He then talked about what his love cannot do today because of her illness: "Pat can't bathe herself, choose between a red or blue blouse, put on earrings, shave her legs, read the paper, chew steak or pizza, pour herself a cup of coffee, or find our bathroom on her own. ... Most times she can't find the words to ask for what she wants, tell me about her day, or name who's talking to her on the phone. ... She whistles all day. Never did before. Over Christmas, she was stuck on, `Easter Parade.' ... Sometimes I whistle with her; it's one of the few things we can still do in harmony. Sort of intimacy redefined."
He said, "Pat and I are the lucky ones. Somehow, so far, we are pulling this off-a day at a time. And we do have fun. We laugh a lot, and we play a lot. The great irony is that they tell us that Alzheimer's is a catastrophic disease. But on any given day we don't feel like we're in the middle of a catastrophe. In many ways, we are happier now than ever before. We talk about it. We agree that surrender, acceptance and loving each other no matter what are big reasons why."
Finally, Moran said that every day his wife whistles an old Irving Berlin tune called "Always." He has no idea where she got the tune. He looked up the lyrics on the Internet and printed them out. They are on their refrigerator door. The refrain goes like this: "The days may not be fair-always. That's when I'll be there-always. Not for just an hour, not for just a day. Not for just a year-but always."
Too often we take so much for granted, including the ones we love. Pat and Emerson have recognized what love is really all about.
We should all be so lucky.
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Lauer is the author of two books, Reach for the Stars and Soar with the Eagles, and is an experienced guest lecturer available for public speaking engagements. For more information, go to chucklauer.com.