Nathan and Millie had a long marriage of fifty-five years. They met for the first time in first grade and discovered that they lived around the corner from each other. They grew up together, always in each other’s company, and went to high school together. There their paths diverged, but only briefly.
Nathan went on to college, and they married after his graduation. When their children were teenagers, Millie went back to school and became a librarian.
Nathan became treasurer for a family-owned paper goods company, a position he kept for most of his life. He was a conservative person, very proud of his thirty-nine-year tenure at Dyer Paper. Proud too that it had grown to be one of the largest companies of its kind in the state.
A notable thing about both Nathan and Millie was that they had a comfortable sense of well-being in their quiet and secure life.
Life changed for them when Millie got cancer in her seventies. Then there was the anxiety of operations, hospitals, a parade of doctors, and constant worry for both of them over what might be the next setback. They closed their house and went into assisted living after Millie recuperated.
They were often seen together, holding hands in the public areas of our facility. After a few months here, Millie seemed depressed and withdrawn. “Sometimes she talks funny,” Nathan told Arthur, their son.
Her condition worsened. In the dining room, she would inject herself into other people’s conversations although she didn’t know them. She confronted a man on the van who was reading his newspaper, saying out of the blue, “What do you mean by that?” Sometimes Millie forgot who Nathan was.
Finally, sadly, Nathan realized that Millie was sliding into dementia. Because of her outbursts, Millie was prohibited by the residence from going on movie trips or museums. Out of loyalty and love for her, Nathan never went to any of these events either. “Your mother and I have been together since Day One,” he told his son. ”So am I supposed to leave her now and go to their movies? I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.”
“But if she gets worse?” asked Arthur
Millie became more combative and loud. Her lifelong qualities of gentleness, docility and quiet were gone. The director told Nathan that Millie would have to go to an Alzheimer’s facility. “But you can stay.”
“Never,” Nathan answered angrily. “I will take care of her.” He planned to get a small apartment and look after her himself. She wasn’t violent. “She just gets a little loud sometimes.”
“You never know,” said Arthur, disapprovingly.
“Alright. I’ll get in a girl to help me.”
“Dad, that’s the kids’ college money!”
“Don’t worry, my son, we’re old. You’ll soon bury us both.”
Less than a year later, they were both dead. Millie first and Nathan two weeks later.