Liz Friden, Class of 2019
Even as the oldest cousin, I do not know my own grandmother. As I was learning how to talk, she was forgetting. Joan D’Arcy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2002 and still has it to this day. Despite this disease, my grandma has taught me so much about what matters in life. Ironically, it’s love.
Through the people she loved, she made them into who they are, and they have shared their love with me. They are my family.
Every time I visited her home, I was struck by the beautiful woman on the walls. The one with the calm smile and “Jackie O” style. Jackie Kennedy was too stuffy for her. My grandma is now an old woman, unable to utter anything but a mumble. The young woman on the walls radiates grace and energy. It was no wonder my grandpa loved her so much that he took such loving care of her.
As a kid, I was so frustrated by her. I did not like my grandma at all. We were on vacation in 2002 and she kept giving me the beach towels, telling me to wash them and to be sure to fold them after they air dried. I was five. It took me a few years for me to realize what was wrong with her. It took her a few years to tell people something was wrong with her.
One visit, I remember really looking at her, the way a kid looks at something they are seeing for the first time. I saw my grandmother for the first time that day. I saw the wrinkles on her eyes and the lines on her neck. The way her short hair was tucked behind her ear with a barrette.
My favorite memory in the entire world is my grandma and grandpa’s 50th wedding anniversary in 2014 when they renewed their vows.
Grandma and Grandpa were sitting in the middle of their living room. They were about to be blessed by the hot priest my aunt had hired to do the blessing. The priest performed the sacrament of renewing their vows. It was beautiful. Through the tears I was trying to hide, I saw Joan and Tom D’Arcy looking at one another. They were smiling; my grandpa said he loved her. To my surprise she mumbled back to him, communicating the same thing as best she could. They were no longer my grandparents, dying in their own ways. There were tears in Tom’s eyes and one single tear in Joan’s.
For the first time in my whole entire life, I saw mutual love between two old people. I saw it, and it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I did not know my grandma very well, but she gave me that. I saw a woman struggling to communicate, but who was so moved by everything going on around her and so loved by the people she had spent her whole life loving that her brain processed something it was not supposed to: emotion.
After that day, I looked at the pictures on the walls and saw her timeless sense of style, combined with the people she loved. My grandmother, a woman I had hardly known, has become an icon in my life.
I drove home with my family the next day. A few weeks later, I broke up with my high school boyfriend. I saw what my grandparents had and knew I would never have it with him. I will never forget what I saw that day in my grandparents’ living room. Looking into their eyes and seeing the love they had for each other even through their sicknesses has given me the highest standard of love. I do not think they were soulmates, I think that idea is stupid. But they made it work, and they were in love with the work, in love with the commitment for one another. That is Catholic love.
So with another upcoming Valentine’s Day that will be spent alone, or with friends and cookies broken in half to become broken heart cookies, it is important to remember what love is. Love is what my grandparents had. It was more than a relationship; it was a life together.
In December of 2014, just 5 months after their anniversary, my grandfather passed away. My grandma still lives in their house with her long time live in aid, Mary. Mary takes care of her the way my family can’t. My grandmother has now had diagnosed Alzheimer’s for sixteen years and continues to be loved by Mary, her five daughters, her friends, their husbands, and their children.