Valentine’s Day is only a week away and recently, while I was waiting in the checkout aisle at my grocery store, I overheard two ladies talking about the upcoming holiday. One of the women was in a new relationship and looked forward to the day of red. The other woman, who reminded her friend that she’s been married for more than 15 years, listened to her friend swoon about her new love interest, rolled her eyes and, wearing a smirk, tartly remarked, ”That’s nice but have you ever heard this quote…?
“‘Love is like a card game. You start by playing with two hearts and one player wants the diamond. It ends with one or both players wanting a club and a spade.’”
When she finished reciting the quote, she smiled at her friend and now the woman “in love” was rolling her eyes at her longtime married pal. Obviously, these two women didn’t agree about the significance of Valentine’s Day or share the same feelings when it came to celebrating the holiday, and to be truthful, more people might agree with the cynical woman.
Whichever side of the fence you’re sitting on (planning that Anti-Valentine’s Day Party, or picking out chocolates for your special honey), the topic of love has always been popular, even before Chaucer made it courtly in the Middle Ages.
If you’re dreading the day, this true love story might melt your cold heart. The main characters aren’t Romeo and Juliet but George and Pearle. It goes like this…
“Real love stories never have endings” – Richard Bach
It was a blue-sky hot-and-humid summer afternoon in July and I was beginning my shift at the nursing home, caring for elderly patients. Every morning, like clockwork, George, an 85-year-old gentleman, would be transported to our facility by the assisted living senior bus, just in time to have breakfast with Pearl, his wife of 60 years. “Sweet Girl Pearl” (as George affectionately referred to her) had been admitted into our facility that April and George was trying to adjust to living apart from the love of his life. George had been told that Pearl would probably never leave the facility.
Pearl had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and it was progressively getting worse. In its later stages, Pearl had forgotten how to walk and was confined to a wheelchair that George would push around the home, wearing his famous crooked smile. “Just taking a tour with my beautiful wife,” he’d say as he tipped his Red Sox baseball cap to me. I’d usually spot them together outside on the patio, holding hands in the shade. They sat in complete silence but both would smile at anyone who passed by. Unless George was pushing Pearl in her wheelchair, they were always holding hands.
By June, Pearl had stopped recognizing George, but this didn’t seem to bother him. Every morning, he’d routinely arrive by his senior bus, greet his wife with a soft kiss on the cheek, and wheel her down to the breakfast hall. George would hold a fork to feed his wife with one hand, and use his other free hand to hold on to his wife. They were forever holding hands, smiling and sitting in silence.
It was shortly after the fourth of July, and George had not yet taken down the red-white-and-blue decorations he had brought the week before to decorate Pearl’s room with. As I wheeled another patient to the cafeteria, I felt something was wrong. Something was different today. George and Pearl weren’t sitting at their usual spot, having breakfast together. I told another nurse that I wanted to go to Pearl’s room, just to check on them.
When I entered the festive and patriotic corner of the room, which was divided by a curtain that provided privacy for Pearl and her roommate, I noticed right away that something was off. Pearl was staring up at the ceiling and George, still holding her hand, lifted his head to look at me. It had been buried in Pearl’s lap, and when he greeted me with “Hello, Dear” I could tell that he’d been crying. As I neared Pearl’s bed, I could see she wasn’t breathing and I immediately paged the floor’s doctor and started CPR. After the doctor arrived, he confirmed what I already knew. Pearl was gone.
George told me that Pearl had waited for him. He had sat by her bed, held her hand and for the first time in months, she recognized her beloved husband and actually spoke to him. “George, our love will never die. I love you, my dear, dear George.” Then she closed her eyes and left peacefully.
George was remarkable. He had been there every day and even though Pearl, due to poor health, was unable to give him what he may have needed and probably prayed for (to recognize him and talk about their grandkids), it didn’t seem to matter to George. He was there for her and that was enough to make him happy.
Before George left, he gave me a bear hug. He thanked me for helping his wife, and from my sniffles he could tell that I’d be missing Pearl too. He told me not to be sad, that everything was okay. I was embarrassed that he was comforting me when it should have been the other way around!
I waited with George outside. His senior bus was called to make a special pickup. The last thing he said to me, before he tipped his cap, smiled his crooked smile, and boarded his bus to leave our facility for the very last time, was:
“Pearl hasn’t left me. She’s still here. She’ll always be with me. Our love is too strong to ever die.”
As I watched the senior bus pull out of the lot and into the main street, George waved to me through his window and I tried to smile, but it was forced.
For whatever reason, that line made so popular from the ’70s movie Love Story, with Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal, played in my head: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” I never understood that line and always disagreed with it, and from today George’s line, the one he often would say to me and the other staff during one of his visits, would be forever ingrained in my mind:
“Love means never having to say a word, but knowing you are loved. Just be present.”
I wish there were more Georges out there who understood the true meaning of love.
Even if Jay Leno says it’s just a day to extort from men, try to have yourself a Happy Valentine’s Day!