Three Times a Lady

by Ginnie Horst Burkholder

Thirty-some years ago, Nelson kissed me goodbye and went off to school to teach a room full of active fifth graders. Before he left he told me to be sure to listen to the local radio station at 10 a.m. I went about my morning chores, as was my habit, listening to National Public Radio or perhaps the stereo. At 10 a.m., I went to the radio and dialed back and forth trying to find Skip Hornyak’s familiar voice at 1480 WHBC. To my dismay, I couldn’t find it. I knew the DJ’s voice, but what else was I listening for? When would I know what I should be hearing? After some time searching, I gave up.

That night, Nelson came home and asked me if I had heard his request on the radio. I had to admit that I hadn’t. He had requested that the Commodores’ “Three Times a Lady” be played on WHBC for our wedding anniversary, and I had missed it. How could I have let this brief jaunt into the romantic get away? Later when I heard the song for the first time, my regrets grew.

You’re once, twice, three times a lady, and I love you.
Yes, you’re once, twice, three times a lady, and I love you.

I would be out shopping or driving the car, and when that song came on I felt both instant regret and a heart full of gratitude for the little romantic splurge Nelson took that day. Eventually I went out and bought the CD.

A little celebration

Year 38. An anniversary card from my sister reminded Nelson, now eight years into his LBD diagnosis, that he too had something he was supposed to give me. She had helped him buy the card earlier in the week. He seemed only to know that he was supposed to give it to me. He didn’t know that he was giving it a day early and had nothing to say when he gave it. The next day on our anniversary I decided to create a little celebration by putting on the Commodores.

Thanks for the times that you’ve given me
The memories are all in my mind
And now that we’ve come to the end of our rainbow
There’s something I must say out loud.

I heard the irony in the words, “The memories are all in my mind.” I had seen those memories slipping away from him. Who could have guessed that at the end of our rainbow we would be untangling Lewy body mysteries instead of exploring retirement’s pot of gold? I found myself acutely missing the Nelson that was and grieving the loss of hope that the partner I had could ever return.

Stand by me

That year I knew he would not be able to do as we had done in the past – stand with our arms around each other, moving slowly to the music. This time we could only stand and hold each other, he leaning more and more on me. Then he had to sit down. I told myself that the song expressed his sentiment whether he could express it or not. I felt tenderness for his helplessness and sadness for my loneliness.

A lot of anniversary years have come and gone since then. Some have been celebrated, some barely acknowledged. Now we have just remembered our 43rd. I had decided not even to mention it to avoid the bitter sweetness. He, in a startling moment of recall, reminded me.

So we listened to some favorite music – Neil Diamond, Eric Clapton, and then I put on the Commodores for our traditional “Three Times a Lady.” I told Nelson he didn’t get to sit this one out, and we did a “one-two-three” pull up from his chair, my weight barely enough to give me the leverage I needed to lift him. We stood with our arms around each other while his body, hijacked by Lewy body stiffness, moved very little and his feet not at all. His head got heavier on my shoulder, and his chin dug in sharply. Then I was propelled abruptly across the room as his feet broke out of their frozen stance. By then I had had enough, and he needed to sit down.

Now the efforts to redeem the romance that once existed in what seems like another lifetime must be discarded like some silly fantasy. Once I was three times a lady, and he was known to call himself Don Quixote. Today I’m his caregiver, and Don Quixote is completely dependent on me to be his Lady in ways I never could have imagined and never would have chosen. Many times I have wanted to walk away. But how do you walk away from Don Quixote? And so I put him to bed last night and asked him if I’m still three times a lady. A smile spread across his face, and in spite of a day when my patience had come up short, he said, “Maybe four.”


© 2009 Ginnie Horst Burkholder

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