Together in LoveJanuary 12, 2013
Story by John Seasly
Photos by Olivia Corya
Not long after they moved into their new duplex at St. Charles Health Campus in Jasper, Daddy started to fall.
Well into his 80s and well over 6 feet, Daddy is a tall, headstrong man, and Mom could do little other than worry.
“I was just scared to death he was going to hurt himself,” she said.
For Dick and Sally Moorman, who refer to each other exclusively as Daddy and Mom, the solution was simple but unusual. Dick, 87, would move to the assisted-living unit in the main building, where he could receive the care and attention that he needed, while Sally, 82, would continue to live in her duplex.
With the knowledge that Dick was safe, Sally could finally get a good night’s sleep, albeit alone.
About the length of a football field separates his room from her villa, but the distance can feel much longer. The nursing staff help Dick stand for brief moments, either to move from wheelchair to chair, or bed, or to tuck in his shirt. If he tries to stand on his own, a sensor beneath him sounds a buzzer, and the nursing staff come quickly. Sally can walk on her own, but the effort leaves her winded.
“I never dreamed that we’d be separated like this,” Sally said.
More than distance separates them. Dick’s hearing is not as sharp as it used to be. Even with his hearing aids in, Sally has to repeat herself two or three times for Dick to understand. His memory, too, shows signs of fading. He responds to many questions with a gruff, dry humor, with an “I guess” or an “If you say so.” Whether he has trouble hearing or trouble understanding is not always clear.
Sally’s love for him is as strong as ever, and she glows when she speaks about him. If he’s around, she gazes directly into his eyes when she talks, even if it’s not to him. She touches his hand, his cheek, his forehead. She kisses him and calls him a rascal. She is infinitely patient.
The Moormans have been married for 48 years. They met in Indianapolis in January 1964, right around the time that Dick was turning 39. Sally was 33. Dick had been a lieutenant in the Air Force, flying B-17 Bombers over Germany in World War II. After the war, he studied to be a pharmacist at Purdue University and eventually took a job as a sales manager for Eli Lilly. He was recently widowed, with seven children, the youngest barely more than a year old. Sally was living with her parents and working as a registered nurse. She had been a nun for six years when she was younger and had never married.
Friends of Dick, who knew of Sally, arranged for them to meet. He called her on the phone, introduced himself and asked her out. She said yes, but had serious misgivings. “I don’t want any part of that,” she told her parents. “That’s a man looking for a wife, and he’s got seven kids.”
She went on the date “as an act of charity,” but couldn’t help but fall in love.
“He was so pitiful-looking,” she said. “He was 6-foot-3 and weighed 160 pounds. You wanted to put him on your shoulder and burp him.”
He introduced her to his children on their second date. They were married six months later.
“And that was that,” Sally said.
Soon after they were married, Dick got a promotion and they moved to Knoxville, Tenn. From there, they moved to Edmond, Okla., then to Martinsville. Sally worked as a nurse and helped raise the children. She had three of her own, but she was a mother to all of them.
They moved to St. Charles in January 2010. Dick moved up to the assisted-living unit in February 2011.
Living apart, Dick and Sally make do. They see each other almost every day, and call each other several times a day. Sometimes, Sally will drive them to the Dairy Queen for a treat. On Sundays, the couple has dinner with their youngest son, Tom, and his wife, Becki, who live in Jasper. Sally regularly calls her children, and other friends and relatives.
“I never get lonesome,” Sally said.
On a warm October afternoon, she calls up her husband.
“Want to come down to the house?” she asks, then repeats herself so he can hear. “Where I live?” He says yes. Sally makes the walk up to the main building, holding onto a visitor’s arm as she goes. A member of the nursing staff is combing Dick’s hair as Sally reaches his room.
“Oh, Mr. Handsome,” she exclaims when she sees him.
He looks up at her.
“Be sweet,” she tells him.
“I am sweet,” he says.
“No, you’re not,” she teases.
Dick’s room is filled with cards and framed photographs. There is a bed, a leather chair, a television. A photograph of the plane he flew in the war hangs on the wall. His family smiles out at him from a dozen pictures.
Sally signs him out on a sheet at the desk nearby. Resident Activities Director Ann Oeding wheels Dick out of the building and down the pavement to Sally’s house. Sally walks beside them, again holding a visitor’s arm for support.
“Every once in a while, we walk like this,” she says.
The wheelchair barely fits through the front door to Sally’s home, but Oeding manages.
Sally’s house is packed with black-and-white photos, old books with cracked spines and the images of her Irish Catholic faith. A portrait of St. Patrick, originally owned by her great-great-grandparents, hangs above the couch.
Oeding squeezes Dick’s chair through another door to the back porch. They soak up the sun and look at the flowers.
“What have you been doing today?” she asks him, and repeats.
“Trying to sleep,” he tells her.
“Did you have a bad dream last night?” Sally asks, caressing Dick’s hand.
“I don’t think so.”
“You just couldn’t sleep.”
Eventually, Dick closes his eyes and they sit there, silent and together.
Sally tears up when she reflects on the care that St. Charles has provided for Dick
“It’s just like a motel,” she said. “It’s not like a nursing home. … They’re just so good to him. Oh, they’re just so good to him.”
On Nov. 1, volunteers from American Legion Post 147 serve the veterans at St. Charles an early Thanksgiving meal. Dick and Sally sit with their friends Ray and Marilyn LaFlamme, parents of their daughter-in-law Becki and also residents of St. Charles. Patriotic songs play from a nearby CD player. Ray talks about his time in the service and Sally listens attentively.
“Well, that was a delightful meal,” Sally says as their plates are taken away. She turns to Marilyn.
“Was yours good?” Marilyn nods. “Good.” Marilyn looks down at the table with drowsy eyes.
“You look sleepy,” Sally remarks.
“She sleeps a lot,” Ray tells her.
“Daddy does too,” she responds.
Dick looks around the table, but stays silent, as he has for most of dinner.
Ray wheels Marilyn back to their room, and Sally takes Dick back to his. It is dark outside, and Dick is fading.
“Are you getting sleepy?” Sally asks him, once, and then a second time, louder.
“Am I sleepy? No more than usual,” he says.
“You didn’t shave today,” Sally says and repeats.
“I didn’t know I was going to have company.”
“I told you I was coming.” In a softer tone, she says to a visitor, “He pretends like he doesn’t hear me a lot of times. He does. But I know.”
A staff member comes in to help Dick get ready for bed. Sally gets ready to go.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she says. He doesn’t hear. She leans in closer.
“Daddy,” she pats his chin, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” She gives him a kiss. “Good night.”
“Good night,” he says.
“I love you,” she tells him.
The bed is readied. Sally watches for a moment. “Dream about the Irish angels,” she says, softly.
She makes her way out of the building, back to her own bed and her own home, down at the end of the street.
Contact John Seasly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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