Today I sewed up a mini to send to the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative. My husband said it made him think of looking out at the stars through a sashed window, so this one will be titled “Stargazing.”
Both my father and father-in-law suffered from Alzheimer’s. I wrote a blog entry earlier about how my personal roots with quilting are tied to the time I spent with my father during his last year. Just a few weeks ago, a quilter very kindly sent me photos of two quilts she had made using foundations from my book that she donated to the Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative. I was so touched by that.
When I think of Alzheimer’s, I think, of course, of the suffering my father and father-in-law experienced. But I also think of the profound care that my mother and mother-in-law dedicated to their husbands. It was both hard to watch and terribly moving, a lesson in the power and endurance of love.
This quilt will be dedicated to my father-in-law. He was a cook in the Navy during WWII, a plumber by trade, a fisherman for the joy of it. Sometimes he was a little abrupt and could say the wrong thing. He was someone you could count on in a crunch. He barbecued a truly great steak and enjoyed a beer with his friends down at the bar. He liked to laugh and was a bit of a flirt. He had what we called the Sandelin charm. One of the last best memories we have of him is his telling the story of meeting Elinor, his wife. The Alzheimer’s was already pretty far progressed by then but he managed to finish the story of how he convinced her to let him escort her home in a taxi, and then had to walk the miles back into town at night in the cold because he didn’t have enough money to pay both ways. It meant so much to all of us, particularly Elinor herself, of course, to see him light up as he told this story of falling in love, of finding the right woman.
We live in a culture that really likes to promote the love stories of the young and beautiful and famous. How many photos of Angelina and Brad have we all seen on the covers of the magazines as we wait for checkout at the grocery store? Story after story of this or that famous couple’s breakup or some other one’s deluxe wedding that cost more that most of us could earn in ten lifetimes. And really, more power to them. I’m not going to assume their love is any less real just because it’s been packaged with maximum glitter.
But when I think of love, of real enduring love, the kind of love I want to both be worthy of and to give, I think of the examples that don’t make the covers of magazines. Of the devoted care my mother and mother-in-law gave their husbands, of a friend who supported her partner through years of a painful and debilitating cancer.
I remember standing in line at the hospital once when an elderly man and woman came in behind me. He was tall, with impeccable posture and a shock of white hair. She was small, not even reaching his shoulder. As he read the signs on the wall, a worried expression crossed her face. And though he wasn’t even looking at her in that moment, he knew. His arm reached out and pulled her in close to his side, then he bent down and dropped a kiss on top her head. It was a beautiful moment and I felt lucky just to have witnessed it, testimony to the kind of love that can’t be won or stumbled upon but has to be earned, year after year, each built upon another.
And perhaps I’ve gotten off track in this entry about donating a quilt in my father-in-law’s name, already starting to plan the quilts I will dedicate to my father, my mother, my mother-in-law. But it does all seem connected to me. Alzheimer’s is such a terrible disease and it was terrible to see my loved ones suffer with it, terrible to see the heavy burden of care placed on their wives, our mothers. But I also always think of how profoundly it revealed to me the strength of enduring love. Every time I see these lines of Shakespeare, I think of my mother and mother-in-law: “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds . . .” They proved to me the truth of those words.