My father is a social butterfly. Between church, family and friends, he and Mom led a lively life. So when my mother died in 2001, Dad was adrift. Then Caroline entered the picture.
She was the church piano player who had been widowed for years. She was living on a ranch and, understandably, very lonely. As my father says, they became friends. And maybe I should just leave it at that. But now that I have your attention, you want to know more, right?
Caroline eventually moved into town, which put her closer to Dad who lived about a mile outside of his rural community. Together they created a new social circle with their shared church relationships, friends and family.
In earlier years, the two of them enjoyed outings and card game nights in the community. They ate lunch together each day and oftentimes dinner as well. They were an active part of their church scene for years. Dad’s social circle accepted Caroline and vice versa. Our families got along too. And, for the past 14+ years, we’ve shared most of the major holidays and observances.
Mom and Dad were married 53 years before my mother passed away, quite suddenly. I have to be honest—it was hard, at first, seeing Dad with someone else a year after Mom was gone. But gradually Caroline filled a void for our entire family.
She was a female presence who brought a smile to my father’s face again. They never lived together, they never married. But she was and still is an important part of our family.
Like Dad, though, I tell most people that Caroline is his friend. I tried “girlfriend” or “lady friend,” but the reaction from many people made me mad. I’ve heard giggles and guffaws. Shock and amazement. Comments such as “Isn’t that cute.” “You’re kidding!” “Oh, how sweet.”
True, it can be difficult to define an older adult relationship. But, really, why should it be any different than a connection between two 21-year-olds or a couple in their 30s or 40s? Aren’t friendship and romance and love ageless goals? More important, don’t we all want them to be? Perhaps the idea of romance between two seniors seems awkward.
So you may wonder if it is romance or friendship when it comes to Dad and his “friend.” From watching the two of them, it’s obvious that it’s a little of both. My father told me once that he wouldn’t still be here, at 91, if it wasn’t for Caroline. It does not diminish the love he had for my mother. It’s simply that companionship is just so important.
The company I’ve worked for nearly 20 years, Home Instead Senior Care, is founded on the idea that companionship is one of the most important services you can provide a senior. And now, I’ve seen it played out in my own family. Companionship is a life-or-death deal. At least my father says it was for him.
Today, Dad and Caroline are closer than ever. As a matter of fact, she has moved into his care community where he lives in independent living on the top floor and she has a room in assisted living on the ground floor.
They still enjoy two meals a day together and, when the weather is nice and they are feeling up to it, they go for afternoon drives in the country. They play bingo, make popcorn balls and listen to visiting polka and western bands. As they grow increasingly frail, I know they worry about something happening to each other. They know any new day could bring a development neither would want.
It’s ironic how death-and-life circumstances can separate some, like my mom and dad, and bring others together, like Dad and Caroline.
But isn’t it great to think that friendship and romance survive it all?
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