Chris paused at her door, left hand poised above the knob, right hand clutching the plastic basin he had brought from home. He had resisted putting Mandy in memory care, refusing at first to believe that his wife — his lover, his best friend for over five decades — was slowly slipping away. But she came to need more care and supervision than he had the energy to provide.
His heart had been torn in two by the decision; he still wasn’t sure he had done the right thing. But his own health had suffered as a result of the stress and anxiety of trying to care for her. Even the children, all married, with kids of their own, thought it was for the best. Worn down by their insistence, unable to imagine a better alternative, Chris finally relented.
He tried to visit her every day if he could. But most days, she didn’t seem to recognize him. With a single deep breath, he turned the knob and went in.
She was in her usual spot, sitting in the overstuffed grey-green chair that had always been her favorite. After a long day of waiting tables, Mandy would slouch through the door, fall into the chair, and nudge off her shoes. Sometimes, she would soak her aching feet in warm water. If he was home, Chris would bring the basin, then massage her soaking feet while she leaned backed and sighed contentedly. He would look up at her as he toweled her feet dry. Often, she’d start telling him the story of her day—this rude customer, that bratty child. Other times, she would just catch his eye and smile, wordlessly.
There were no more stories now, and smiles were few and precious.
But it was Holy Week, and Chris was there to wash his beloved’s feet.
Mandy was staring silently and vacantly out the window, her thoughts a mystery. He greeted her as cheerfully as he could, watching for a response, a sign of recognition. Any sign. There was none. Head lowered, he took the basin to the sink.
Their love and their shared faith had kept them afloat through the years, surviving and sometimes thriving through the many challenges, through the losses and the grief. It was up to him now to have faith enough for the both of them. He would simply do what he came to do. He would serve her in this way whether she responded or not.
Chris gingerly set down the sloshing basin and knelt before his wife. It made his knees ache. Slowly, methodically, he removed her shoes and socks. The socks don’t match, he noted silently. The aides must have been in a hurry today. Or do they just figure it doesn’t matter? He shook his head, then put the thought out of his mind as he lifted and lowered Mandy’s feet, one at a time, into the water. He glanced up to make sure he hadn’t startled her, but she was still staring through the window.
His hands were calloused, but his touch was tender. He caressed her soles and rubbed a finger gently between her toes. Memories flooded back: the same chair, the same basin. But the images seemed to be of another Chris, another Mandy. Another life. Those days now seemed long past. Where had that life gone?
Letting go of her feet for a moment, Chris drew a sleeve across his eyes. He wanted to be strong for her; he could cry later, alone in the house. He composed himself. Cradling her feet in one hand, he pulled the basin aside, then rested her feet gently on the carpet. Picking up the towel, he began to dry and massage her feet, as he had so many times before.
He paused for a moment, and looked up once more.
Mandy met his gaze, her eyes soft, glistening.
And then she smiled.