When the kids were small, Roger made their breakfast and got them off to school so Rosalie could sleep longer and rise to a peaceful house. Ever a romantic, he wrote love poems for her and did not mind if they were read aloud to anyone. She, in turn, supported his dream of early retirement and travelled for fifteen years as an "RV gypsy" with Roger, even though she deeply missed the family events that took place during the six months each year that they were on the road.
They explored North America for fifteen years, carefree, content and deeply into velcro (which holds things on RV walls), until Roger's deafness made driving unsafe and the rig aged out. In their early seventies, they swapped the RV for comfortable apartment in their home city, where family outings and renewed friendships replaced the pleasures of travel.
Roger's deafness deepened despite a cochlear implant. Once gregarious, he steadily became less social, but remained an unmitigated optimist. Rosalie was the extrovert, always available to help older neighbours, kind and friendly to all.
Le Duc and his siblings began to see a shift in her manner by her mid-seventies, a decade ago. Gifts were never right, former pleasures did not satisfy, and she became critical of Roger, driving him to tears on occasion. A move to a retirement home three years ago brought welcome relief from grocery shopping and meal preparation, and many of their friends already lived in the building.
"In sickness and in health", they once vowed, but debilitation had overtaken a close, loving marriage, and she no longer wanted the job. Roger's response was that this was "a phase" of hers. Because he now had Parkinson's, he moved to a long-term care facility adjacent to their retirement home just before Christmas. Rosalie shares their assisted-living suite with a new roommate.
While everyone agreed Roger needed skilled care, what shocked her children was her insistence that, whether he would be in the same building or not, she was done with caregiving. The "and" was excised from the two Ros.
It seems that love is tied to the brain as well as the heart, and that its associated virtues, devotion and duty, are similarly eroded by cognitive impairment. Uneven aging may last for decades, while the same partner, always healthier, is willing to take care of the other— but in some cases, a late-life form of leapfrog sets in.
I have also seen the healthier partner up and leave, but that is often a reflection of years of a less-than- happy relationship. No one saw Rosalie's resignation coming.
When her dementia recedes, as it will at times, I wonder whether Rosalie misses those close and passionate years. I suspect so, because I have saved cards she sent on our wedding anniversaries, in which she wrote of the strength of a couple's love, and its importance to family life. She enjoined us to take care of a precious gift.
Her personality changes are more difficult for their children than the sight of their father's infirmity; her inability to summon a once-intense love distresses them. She needs their love precisely at the time she is unable extend it herself. Her two sons and daughter are attentive and sensitive to her plight, but they hope that absence truly makes the heart—even one dented by time—fonder. On a recent good day, Rosalie admitted that she missed Robert.
After my father's death, I found a note in his jacket pocket on which he had written, "Old age is an unkind thief; he takes what we value most."
At no time has that melancholy metaphor seemed more apt.