Phil and Ann. In so many ways she saved his life.
Could their planning for a future in which she was afflicted with Alzheimer’s extend that deliverance from his torment?
Memory is a powerful thing. Especially if it involves a special experience, set of experiences, or significant remarks from a loved one. The loved one does not necessarily need to be a spouse.
As I said in an earlier blog post, my father’s observations motivated me to choose a wife with substance and conviction. While my wife’s comments were often memorable, it was her devotion to a set of ideals that stays with me, both cognitively and emotionally.
Those ideals do not motivate me to go to extremes in service to others.
But there is no way to escape the need to offer service. Even when tempted to do so. My contributions to AARP, church, education, and others are just a few examples. Even writing this blog is something I felt compelled to do.
It is the opposite side of PTSD. A memory that nurtures life. Not one that tries to destroy it.
PTSD is not limited to military experiences. It can come from being abused, denigrated by society for being “different,” the victim of a bad accident, or the holder of unusual beliefs.
As I wrote Phil’s story, the wartime experience seemed to be the biggest culprit.
But, as the author who created Phil’s character, I think much of his life contributed to his dysfunction. Why did he drop out of high school? Why did he feel a need to join the Marines?
Was his parents’ later divorce based on chaotic relations in the home? Why did his sister move away and the two of them never see each other again?
Phil was a fragile guy from the get-go. Horrific experiences in Vietnam cemented his emotional instability and psychological distress.
Although my life was nothing like Phil’s, I led many men in the army who were like him. And worse.
In my years of service, the military gave only incidental attention to guys like Phil. Our job as leaders was to ensure our men were mentally and physically able to fulfill any mission we were given.
I’ve heard the situation is different in today’s military. I hope so.
Ann is a character I also invented. But I have known many women like her. Strong, resilient, understanding, loving, intelligent and resourceful.
Most of all they are empathetic and selfless.
Where do such women come from? I do not know.
But I do know my invented character “Phil” was lucky to find Ann. Some might call it serendipity. Others say it was a spiritual gift.
The big question is whether the amazing relationship that ensued was strong enough to replace all the bad memories Phil held in his brain. To carry him forward despite future challenges he and Ann were sure to face.
What mattered most was that Ann awakened Phil to the way life could and should be lived.
The 2004 movie, The Notebook, was based on a book of the same name by Nicholas Sparks. While considered by many to be a great tale, I find the movie difficult to watch.
The same is true when I view one of my wife’s favorite films, Somewhere in Time. Both are tender and heart-wrenching. The endings are like the one in Wuthering Heights, the famous book by Emily Brontë.
Like Romeo and Juliet, and other tragedies in the romance genre, these stories end with the despair and death of two people in love. While certainly romantic, my preferred storyline needs to be more inspirational in the context of an ongoing hope and service on earth.
By the one who remains.
As the author of Phil and Ann’s story, I should probably find a way to interject a positive spin. I do not have PTSD or a history of addiction and dysfunction. My cognitive ability and physical health seem okay. Financial security gives me physical comfort.
And, as the one who remains, I am inspired to carry on in ways “we” did as a couple.
But I am aware of how fortunate I am.
A recent study found that 31% of American caregivers consider suicide. I could have easily written that into Phil’s story, especially after Ann entered the final stages of Alzheimer’s.
Add pandemic-charged reports of social disruption, Phil’s PTSD would be given plenty of fuel to erupt anew. And the final spark would be Ann’s inability to remember Phil or their previous life together.
I titled this post “Planning.” Superficially, we use that word to describe the act of looking into the future. Trying to predict what might happen and how we can be ready when it occurs.
Today, most of us view the process in terms of tangibles: Money. Housing. Food. Healthcare. Insurance. Activities. Investments. Communities. Support.
All those tangibles are important. They needed to be discussed by Ann and Phil, which led them to a specialist in estate planning. An important move.
But Ann had an even bigger challenge. In addition to coming to grips with her own decline, she had to emotionally prepare Phil. Maybe even spiritually.
She did not hold the romantic view that Phil’s life should end with hers, either in the context of Alzheimer’s or physical death.
To Ann, Phil’s experiences and contributions after her departure needed to be meaningful. Until his own natural death.
Perhaps Ann was able to convince Phil on her own. Through long conversations. Maybe with a trip, such as Joy suggested to C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands.
Maybe with the help of a pastor or a professional therapist. One who would still be in Phil’s life after Ann passes.
Perhaps a notebook full of little letters, or video clips of their conversations, or the continuing of a hobby they started together. Anything that might draw Phil into a world they once shared and enjoyed. A place or emotional space in which communication was perpetuated.
Stories are just manufactured realities. Authors can end them any way they wish. But sometimes they work in real life. We can only hope the one Ann and Phil uses meets her goals.
Continue to seek ways to take care of yourself.
©2020 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved