78: I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You

78: I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You

To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak.

~Hopi Indian Saying

At sixty-one my father was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The hints were subtle at first. He missed cues in conversation and told the same stories over and over again, but when my active, social father started avoiding family and talking all together, we knew something was wrong. Later, after many doctor’s visits and failed attempts at drawing the face of a clock, we accepted the reality.

Eventually, my mom made the painful decision to move Dad into a nursing home. By that time, he needed help getting in and out of bed, going to the bathroom, even eating and walking. Soon I realized the nursing home was the best place for him. He couldn’t wander off or be a threat to his own safety.

One day, Mom told me an Elvis impersonator was coming to the nursing home. I had never seen Elvis anywhere but on TV, so I didn’t turn down the chance for a live performance. When Elvis finally came, a bit late, he arrived to the same game show-type soundtrack that accompanied the real Elvis. Don’t think for a second he took it down a notch because of his surroundings; on the contrary, I think our Elvis was just as into the performance, if not more so, because he understood this would be the highlight of his audience’s day. He was a one-man show, changing his music by himself and stepping out to the hallway once or twice for a costume change.

I was thoroughly enjoying myself, as were most people in the room. Dad was all smiles, and Mom laughed and tapped her foot, sometimes singing along, and grinning at Dad whenever he looked her way.

The audience sat in folding chairs along the side of the room, and I was sitting behind my parents. The center of the room was left open for our performer, and anyone who wanted to could come out and dance, or spin their wheelchairs in a circle.

When “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” began to play, I had a feeling this was his last number: a nice slow song to close the show, calm everyone down, and send them off to their rooms. My dad turned his head to look at my mom, and the King came over to help him up so he could take my mom’s hand and dance with her.

I was so happy for them and so sad at the same time. I didn’t know if the tears welling up in my eyes were from joy or sorrow. But now I know. In front of me were two people who loved each other so much that even a debilitating, ruthless disease couldn’t make them forget how important they were to one another, dancing right there in the middle of the tiled floor of the all-purpose room.

It didn’t matter that the song was sung by an Elvis impersonator; it didn’t matter that they were surrounded by other sick people and the staff who cared for them; it didn’t even matter that Dad wouldn’t remember this dance thirty minutes from now. What mattered was that they were together. “Take my hand. Take my whole life too. For I can’t help falling in love with you.”

Elvis, a veteran performer, could see my parents were a couple, and that I was their daughter. When his finale ended, and I was still trying to hide my watery eyes and blotchy complexion, he came over and handed me his scarf.

“I bet it’s good to see them like that again,” he said. “I’m guessing you haven’t seen it in a while.” I nodded, as a fresh batch of tears welled up in my eyes. The King squeezed my shoulder, and then Elvis left the building.

~Laurie Rueter Schultz

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