I was walking home from work this afternoon and to my horror I saw an elderly lady sitting in the middle of the road. I ran over and as I got closer I realised there was an awful lot of blood on her face. I fumbled for my phone as I tried my best to comfort her. Her husband came from nowhere, himself rather shaken, and explained that she had taken a tumble whilst walking to their front door. He had left her alone to park the car. It was clear that he was in a deep state of shock. I dialled 999 and offered as much information to the emergency services and I could. By this point another member of the public had arrived and was helping the old man lift his wife off the cold ground. It was heart-breaking to watch her shuffle up the driveway, clutching her nose with a blood soaked handkerchief. Whilst I was relaying information to the emergency services, the man managed to tell me his wife was called Stella and he was called Jim. He couldn’t remember how old Stella was; just that she was born in 1927. I did a quick bit of mental arithmetic for the nice lady on the other end of the phone. Jim explained that Stella had Alzheimer’s and that she had forgotten to take her walking stick out with her.
Once I'd finished the phonecall, I let myself into their house where I found Stella sitting in the living room, teary, shaken and disoriented. Jim was in the kitchen so I made sure she was comfortable and warm. I reassured them both that the ambulance was on its way. The heavy bleeding had stopped (much to my relief) and I could now see a nasty gouge down the entire length of Stella’s nose. She already had the beginnings of two black eyes and her top lip was torn. There was blood all over her coat and, more poignantly, the paper poppy pinned to her lapel. I took her hand in mine; tissue paper skin as cold as marble. I could feel her shaking like a baby bird so I gave her hand a gentle squeeze and she started to cry. Jim left the room to get the shopping in from the car. It struck me as odd at the time but I realise now he probably needed a moment to collect his thoughts. I shouted that he should leave the front door ajar so the paramedics would get in easily. He was worried about the house getting cold, especially with the rising cost of electricity. I pulled the blanket up over Stella’s legs. She started opening up about how much she loved Jim and how lost she would be without him. She told me this three separate times, the exact same words with the same passion. I had to fight back my tears every time.
I learned a lot in the time it took for the ambulance to arrive. I learned that Stella was the youngest of seven children and that she hated her name, blaming her mother for running out of ideas by child number seven. I told her (truthfully) that it was one of my favourite names and her face lit up.
“It means star,” she said, proudly.
“Well, today you really are a star,” I replied, “a falling star.”
I learned that Stella and I share a birthday – 45 years apart. I learned that she is at the horrible stage of Alzheimer’s where she’s aware of her decline and that she often forgets her own name. I learned that Jim, aged 93, cares for her by himself, doing all the cooking and household chores. He never complains. I learned that they have been married for 65 years and have one son (who they refused to let me call in case he worried.) I learned that even in an emergency people feel the need to offer you tea and that it is possible, even at the ripe old age of 87, to have the most beautiful, bluest eyes in the world.
Some people bring out the best in us and make us forget, for a few minutes, that the things we think are vitally important really aren’t. What is important is love. I witnessed love in action today and I found it deeply moving. Love can be beautiful but often it’s messy and painful. Often it’s about sacrifice and staying together even when things get ropey. And love is always accompanied by fear. I saw that in Jim’s eyes as he watched the white handkerchief turn a vivid shade of crimson.
Here was a couple so devoted to one another that at times it was difficult to see where one ended and the other began. I joked with Stella that I wished I could find a man like Jim but I know in my heart I won’t. I don’t think love is built to last like it was when they met back in 1947.
When the paramedics finally arrived I knew it was time to leave. Jim couldn’t thank me enough for sticking around. Stella held her hand out to me. Her blue eyes twinkled but this time there were no tears. And this time it was her who squeezed my hand. She thanked me for helping and apologised for the blood on my trousers. I hadn’t even noticed. I told her to take care and to remember her walking stick the next time she left the house.
I had a little cry when I got home. It was probably a mixture of delayed shock and the emotional roller-coaster I’d been on. It was sad to think that at some point in the not too distant future either Jim or Stella will find themselves on their own. How unfair that will be after all those years, all those shared moments, the laughter, the tears, the sacrifice.
True love is a quiet thing. There are no thunder booms and flashing lights. The real meaning of love is absolute loyalty, acceptance, allowing yourself to be be vulnerable. Love is what is left over once being in love has fizzled out. Perhaps that is not as exciting as the initial firework display but the beauty of true love is that it’s long-lasting and unquenchable. Above all, love is a bit of a mystery. You can’t go looking for it; it has to find you.