My uncle passed away earlier this week after a battle against a cruel form of dementia. His spiral down into darkness was not slow and gentle, as some forms of dementia may be. No, he went from a college professor to a being who did not recognize his family in a matter of two years. After that, the rest of his time on this earth, 9 years, was spent in some sort of detached existence.
Through it all, my aunt, who is also my Godmother, stayed with him. For those who blithely divorce under the mantra of "I deserve happiness and fulfillment," I hold up my aunt. For eleven years she supported her husband, never straying, never looking for comfort, never asking for her own happiness. She set aside her life to be a wife to a man who didn't know who she was, and, ultimately, could no longer remember he even needed her. Eleven years, she watched the many she'd shared a life with leave her in the coldest, most heartbreaking way possible. Death, a quick death, would have been less painful. Still, she never complained, and she never left him. She was at his side when he finally drew his last breath.
They celebrated, if you can call it that, their 50th wedding anniversary this past June. 50 years they were married, separated by death. Of those 50, 11 were spent in the agony of dementia. I look at some of the marrieds around me and I pose this question: If you knew that more than 20% of your married life would be spent caring for, visiting, and supporting a partner who didn't recognize you as an important person, would you remain married?
I don't have to guess. The statistics on American marriage are there for everyone.
An odd topic, especially for a romance writer, right? Well, maybe. Romance writers work for the happily ever after. Romance readers read for the happily ever after. But there isn't always a happily ever after, at least not the way the romance world sees it.
But my aunt and my uncle lived in a marriage that was every bit as romantic as any steamy romance Wild Rose Press could put out. They had a happily ever after, in a different way. My uncle was loved and well cared for. He is in Heaven now, and he is the perfect version of himself. My aunt, meanwhile, is free of a burden I cannot even imagine, a burden she did not ask for and would never have given up willingly. She will cry on Friday, when we lay him to rest. She will mourn as hard as any young widow in the first flush of love might. Yet she has peace because she knows she was every bit the solid, faithful wife and partner she promised to be on her wedding day.
I do not write inspirational novels, mostly because, while I live my life in that vein, that form of writing does not include the stories I want to tell. That said, I am drawing tremendous inspiration from my aunt and uncle. Their love story wasn't just about two people in love. It was about two people truly willing to give up everything for each other.
As writers, we often find inspiration in odd places. I've talked quite a bit about how "Dream in Color" came about, after a Rick Springfield concert and meeting Randy Mantooth. "Lies in Chance" was inspired by the TV show "Emergency." "7/8ths Time" the novel I'm working on now, was inspired by some liner notes in a "New Minstrel Revue" CD.
But drawing inspiration for writing from a loss like this is something we can all relate to on one level or another.
I'll be away with family for the next several days, obviously. But I want to encourage all of you to look at the darkest moments, some large loss maybe, of your life, and see if there isn't a glimmer of something beautiful there.