Jake was a solid man though not always in great health in his later years, yet he was determined to care for his wife in her final days, even if she couldn’t remember who he was at times. He wasn’t a big talker, confining himself mostly to nods and one-word answers. However, I got him to talk a little when I saw the World War II medals on his wall.
“Jake, I didn’t know you were at Pearl Harbor,” I said.
“Yep,” he said. “I used to go to the schools to talk about it.”
“Yep. We don’t want people to forget what happened. It’s important.”
That was about all he shared on the subject.
In his wife’s final days, she rarely got out of bed, yet they maintained a ritual to the very end: ice cream.
“We’ve always had vanilla ice cream in the evenings. She may not eat anything else but she’ll have this.”
He helped her sit up. Her eyes stayed closed but her mouth was open wide like a baby bird while Jake spooned it in.
After she died, Jake’s health declined. He fell several times and his short term memory was affected. The Doctor diagnosed him with mild Alzheimer’s.
I wondered how long he’d been struggling with the disease. It seemed like he had been holding himself together, willing himself to press on while his wife needed him. But it caught up with him after she was gone.
He moved into a retirement home where he had some help and he recovered a bit. I continued to see him regularly.
One time, he was in a good mood. “Why don’t you let me buy you a beer?” he said with a mischievous glint in his eye.
“You know the ladies at church would have a high time talking about their pastor drinking beer,” I laughed.
“I won’t tell,” he said.
“Thanks just the same.”
Another time, he broke his typical silence and blurted out, “I sure think a lot of you.”
“Thank you, Jake. I think a lot of you, too.”
I really did. He was quiet, sturdy, and did his duty all his life.
As happens in a Methodist minister’s life, I was assigned to another church and I was to move to another town. I went to see Jake one last time to tell him I would be leaving.
He surprised me when his lower lip trembled. Then tears formed in his eyes and spilled down his cheeks.
“Are you okay, Jake?”
“I didn’t realize this would make you so sad.”
“I’ll tell the next minister to be sure and come see you. Okay?” I said.
I hugged him goodbye and left his room. I went to the nurse’s station.
“Jake’s upset because I told him I’m moving,” I told her. “You might want to check on him.”
“I will,” she promised, “But don’t worry about it. In five minutes he will have forgotten you were there.”
It often feels like life happens in five-minute increments. That last conversation with Jake felt like five minutes ago, but it was really ten years. Five minutes before then he was marrying the woman who had just died after sixty years of marriage. And less than five minutes before then, he was scrambling on the decks of a sinking ship.
Five minutes ago, my grown sons were born. Five minutes ago, I was leaving home to go to college. Five minutes ago, I was a child climbing trees in San Antonio.
Five minutes from now, I won’t be here. Five minutes after that, people will be struggling to remember my name in the family tree.
If I were still a preacher, I’d be looking to make some kind of sermon out of this… something along the lines of making our time count. Just thinking like that makes me anxious. So I think for these next five minutes, I’ll slow my breathing, sip my coffee, and listen to music. Then I’ll hold hands with my wife as we go for a walk on this perfect day. Perhaps I’ll tell her some more about Jake, remembering for him his life and his love.