Don’t worry, this post is barely rated PG.  A prior post was rated PG-45.  That was to make clear to our children that it might contain too much information about their parents love life.  Since I am a Pastor, we, of course, had our children by virgin birth.

Before talking about how touch has impacted Mary Ann and me in recent history, today was in some ways a continuation of yesterday.  Her blood pressure was 180/100 first thing this morning.  There is no way I would consider giving her medicine to raise her blood pressure given that reading.  Even with BP that high, there was a little fainting in the morning.

Volunteer Edie spent the morning with Mary Ann.  There were no problems with fainting.  After lunch the challenging intestinal activity resumed for a while, except for the fainting.  That task is more manageable when there is no fainting.  I am longing for the resumption of more normal regularity, demanding less assistance.

One of the unexpected benefits of Mary Ann’s illness is that it demands more touching.  I grew up in a non-touching family.   I was well into my thirties before I greeted Mom with a hug when visiting.  Before that it was hi to Mom and a handshake for Dad.  Gratefully, through a variety of circumstances that changed, especially with our children.

When a marriage has caregiving added to the relationship of husband and wife, there is an intimacy that grows of necessity.  I am holding Mary Ann many times a day.  My arms are around her to move her, lift her, shift her, dress her.  Prior to the addition of the caregiving, we were not very demonstrative and openly affectionate.  Now, I often linger with a hug when doing one of the tasks that requires putting my arms around her.

I have little doubt that there is an intimacy in our relationship now that we might never have experienced without the needs brought by the Parkinson’s and the complications that have come along with it.  Of course, neither of us would have chosen this way to add intimacy to our relationship.  It is sort of like finding a pearl in a pile of poop. (Am I not poetic!)

Last night and this morning were helpful times for me Spiritually.  With the complexities of Mary Ann’s personal needs, her napping, the vagaries of the blood pressure and dementia, we have not gotten to church very often.  Private devotional time does not substitute for corporate worship which provides community and an encounter with the core message coming from every direction.  Time alone with tools that help focus one’s heart and mind on the presence of God is an important mechanism for Spiritual growth.

Last night, the computer provided access to music that became a means through which the message of God’s unconditional love washed over me.  There was some Taizé music.  The there was a group named Anuna (sang in Riverdance).  Much of their music is ancient church liturgical music.  I played again the CD that includes “The Deer’s Cry,” which is an arrangement of the St. Patrick’s Breastplate prayer with which he began each day.  During the time I was listenting to the CD, I turned the lights in the house off, except for a votive candle on the mantle in front of a small iron Celtic Cross, casting a shadow on the wall.  Those are helpful times that allow my spirit to settle.  It was a help after the difficult day yesterday.

This morning at the lake, I listened to more of Anuna and some more Taizé music.  There was a passage from Jeremiah (29:11-14) and a couple of Psalms (100 and 101) that provided some grounding for the morning’s music and nature watching.  There were only a few birds, but the sounds of frogs and little critters of one sort or another filled the air as I walked along a marsh area (reminiscent of my childhood days playing at the swamp).

This afternoon, I had a little time during one of Mary Ann’s naps to sit out on the deck for the first time since the remodeling began a few weeks ago.  The signs of spring are slowly coming into view.  We do not have a secluded cabin in the woods, but as the leaves come out and the greenery flourishes, the little space at the back of our home will provide some of the nurturing environment I need to stay whole in a very fragmented and disjointed world in which I have very little say about what goes on.

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In last night’s post I said I would do it.  Tonight I will keep that promise, or threat, depending on your perspective.  As I said last night, this is rated PG45 since that number exceeds the ages of our Daughter, Son and their spouses.  As Daughter-in-Law Becky once said when I was only hinting at something that could move into the forbidden area of parents intimate activity — “Too much information!!” 

Since I am old and by some measures (probably most measures) a little stodgy, there is no need to fear too much information.  In saying that, I have, of course, lost all those curiosity seekers who ended up here in hopes of finding something titillating.  I am not sure this old ticker could handle much titillation.  With that said, we old folks still have young folks living inside of us. 

I remember sitting in a movie once, I think it was one of the Grumpy Old Men movies of some years ago.  There was a scene in which Walter Matthau and Ann-Margaret kissed — right on the lips.  Everyone in the theater who was under thirty groaned audibly.  From right behind us I heard at an “Oh gross!” 

I do have to admit that the thought of kissing Walter Matthau full on the mouth is hardly appetizing.  Then again, Ann-Margaret is another story.  What the young among us probably don’t understand is that we old people think other old people are cute, sometimes downright good-looking. 

What is at issue for Caregivers and Carereceivers is how to keep romance alive when meals are often interrupted by bathroom duties and waste management is a routine activity, when arms and legs and stomachs have grown or the skin on them gathered into wrinkles.  How is it possible to get excited about one another when one is tired and annoyed by having to do everything for the other, and the other is tired and annoyed at being followed around and scolded every time there is some behavior the other one doesn’t appreciate? 

Now comes the real problem.  I have just asked the question.  How the heck am I supposed to answer it???? 

Let me start this way.  Mary Ann and I are in our mid-sixties.  When I look at her, I see the cutie whose engagement picture hangs on the wall of our bedroom.  Forty-four years has not stolen from me the feelings that drew me to her.  I would not presume to speak for her.  In fact, I might actually prefer not having her speak to this issue.  I can remember the feelings I had before we met, fell in love and married.  I remember the profound loneliness of being a young single fellow who sometimes felt deeply sad, not sure why.  Once Mary Ann entered my life, never again did those lonely, deeply sad feelings return.  While I don’t fear death, I do fear the return of those feelings, should she leave before me. 

How do Caregivers and Receivers experience romance?  First of all, we do!  Understand, romance is not just about body parts and orgasms and ejaculations.  In fact, those whose understanding of romantic love centers on the biological act of intercourse, have no hope of ever experiencing romance.  By the way, old people actually do know about the biology of conception.   Some of us have had children.  While I happen to have been a pastor at the time and am familiar with the Biblical account of the Virgin Birth, we had our children the usual way. 

I have read many emails from those who are caring for a spouse who has ceased to be the person they married.  They have only memories to draw on for those romantic feelings.  How can they find a way to express their love.   If love was just about body parts and couplings, there would only be sadness left for many. 

The marvel of it is, love, romantic love, has depth and awe and wonder that is only hinted at when people first fall in love.   My favorite movie of all time is no secret to those who know me well.  It is “The Man from Snowy River.”  I don’t know what lies deep in the recesses of my psyche that draws me to it, but I can tell you what I recoginize about it that draws me.  They are simple things.  I love the photography, the scenery.  That movie is the reason one of my dreams has been to visit Australia.  The scenes of running horses will take your breath away.  There are two central themes that draw me to it.  One is the coming of age of a young man who proved himself in spite of the odds against him.  I suppose a 5′ 6″ kid with who had Rheumatic Fever and was not at all popular might understandably enjoy that sort of theme.  The other central theme is the romance that grows between Jim and Jessica.  It is beautiful and touching even to a guy not much into chick flicks.

In the sequel, “Man from Snowy River Two,” the ending is, as with every such story.  Maybe not in so many words, but the ending is, and they lived happily ever after.  “Happily ever after” is what romance is about.  The “ever after” in happily ever after lasts through smelly socks, passing gas, spitting up babies, rebellious teenagers, unsuccessful recipes, stupid comments, throwing up, diahrrea, tragic events, bad mistakes, arguments, hurt feelings.   The love that creates and sustains a relationship after riding off into the sunset can endure waste management, food that lands on the lap and on the floor, caring for bedsores, seeing that blank look of no recognition in the eyes of the object of that love, because of the dementia, hearing harsh and unloving words from the mouth that you kissed in former years. 

That isn’ t pretend love.  It isn’t some poor substitute for the rolling and grunting of biological coupling (which, by the way, is great fun).  It is something that is in its own way, beautiful and meaningful and romantic and intimate beyond anything that could have been imagined when lips touched in that first kiss decades before. 

I will say this much that is specific and personal.  Once or twice a week, I have the job of washing and drying Mary Ann’s hair.  (The Bath Aid does it twice a week also.)  Mary Ann has great hair for which she often gets complements.  While the Parkinson’s has taken much from us, washing Mary Ann’s hair brings wonderful feelings of intimacy.  It is tactile and gentle and relaxing and warming.  Running my fingers through her hair as I dry it is my experience of “happily ever after.”   The other day, Mary Ann gave me a kiss on the neck as I was bent down pulling up the disposable underwear after using the commode.  (Too much information?)  Strangely, in a way, the Parkinson’s has brought more intimacy than it has taken away. 

I would like to think that  Jim and Jessica will grow old together — that their love will grow until they know what it is really like to live happily ever after.

Those of you who are in the throes of caring for a spouse whose chronic illness creates barriers in your relationship, I guess I would like to know what brings real romance into your lives.  How do you cope? 

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Comments are appreciated.