Just over a decade ago, my mom – Lois Gawthrop – married Joe Carpenter. After a long battle with Alzheimer’s, Joe is in the midst of his last few days on earth. Hospice has arranged for the morphine; so, we’re just waiting on Joe – which is usual.
Step-parents are funny things. When you’re young, they’re not-exactly replacements for a missing parent. As you get older, you see more clearly who they are — your parent’s partner/lover/friend.
My mom had spent the better part of another decade taking care of my step-father Doug as he dealt with ALS. When he passed, she needed …. something. A career as a Wal-Mart greeter was not in the cards, and she had already lost her dogs along with a husband.
Then Joe, the “old man across the street”, who had lost his wife Betty, appeared.
He was able to both take care of my mom and be there for her to take care of. He knew his condition then and so did she. They needed each other. And Joe began bringing dogs back into the house – starting with Tillie.
Joe had a full life before we ever knew him. He had traveled the globe fixing planes in the Air Force. He met Betty showing off a plane at a local carnival. He later drove a hearse and delivered magazines across the West Side. Ultimately, he was the shift supervisor at the local chemical plant. He raised a family – including his son Richard.
I know these things because Joe likes to tell stories…and jokes. Loves to tell jokes to everyone. Anyone. And if you missed his jokes, he’ll repeat them — louder.
He loves to laugh and see other people laugh. My lasting memory of Joe is a smile on his face with a cup of coffee in his hand. As ornery as he could be, Joe Carpenter is a good man. A man who cared for and supported my mom. He loves her.
But Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. I realize that I only knew Joe with the disease. Maybe my perceptions of him are skewed. I know my stories are. He helped me move a couple times – once he fell out of a U Haul & the other time he got lost in the casino. And when I helped him move, he backed into a tree. Things that scared the life out of me then.
Now it makes me see all of these stories as more of who Joe is – helpful, kind, funny, full of life … good. At the end of the day, what more can we want for our parents – our friends – when they marry.
Joe will be laid to rest in St Albans alongside his Betty… whenever he gets around to it. We’ll let you know.
If you are able, please support Hospice Council of West Virginia.
For more information about how you can help the Alzheimer’s Project in WV – see here.