Richard and Becky – A Love Story in Michigan

Richard and Becky – A Love Story

At the end of every summer we make the long road trip with our two dogs to Calumet, MI, a tiny town of 800 people, more or less, in the Keweenaw (key‘-wah- nah) Peninsula of Upper Michigan. My remaining siblings arrive a few days later in dribbles until the house is full.  This September was no exception.  The family was together for our annual family gathering. It consisted this year of my niece Lynda, and my remaining siblings and spouses except Esther and Ruth who were too ill to travel this year.

Keweenaw
Via www.neilharriphotos.com

Lynda and I headed to the grocers for cache of fresh veggies. ‘Why don’t we go to the little roadside stand out on the highway first and get what they have, then fill in at the store?” she asked? “Great!” I said.

The guy in charge was there alone. He was a big burly fellow past retirement age. Lynda engaged him in greetings. “How are you this fine day?” He looked at both of us with the most beautiful smile that went all the way to his kind eyes under bushy brows and said: “Well, Becky says I’m perfect, so I guess I am!” We laughed together. “And who is Becky?” I asked.

“Becky is my beautiful wife. She wasn’t feeling well today or you could meet her. She has Alzheimer’s and she doesn’t know who I am anymore, but she likes to come along most days and sit in the truck. Everyone greets her. She loves people. “

As we got more of the story, which Richard was so happy to share, we realized he left a good job in California some years back and took over a family farm in lower Michigan as Becky started failing in her abilities. Then, when even that peaceful setting began to agitate her, he got the idea to move to her childhood home far north in the Keeweenaw Peninsula. He hoped the familiar surroundings and people would bring her comfort. It meant giving up everything, but that was nothing if it helped his precious Becky.

And it seems this IS helping her. While she didn’t remember him anymore, she did relate to the surroundings of Calumet, where little has changed over the years. She seemed happy here. She comes with him to the market every day and sits in the truck. Everyone loves to greet Becky and engage her which usually makes for a good day.

The sweet joy we saw in Richard’s face as he talked on about his treasured wife was so moving and inspiring. The tears trickled unchecked down his cheeks, but his eyes never ceased sparkling. He believed mind-altering drugs are for the benefit of the caregiver and just further inhibit the mind of the patient so they have been doing it medication free for the past 13 years. We know it can’t be easy.

I recently got a copy of the book 36 Hourswhich was so insightful as to what people experience as the caregivers for a loved one with the debilitating disease of Alzheimer’s. I haven’t read it completely yet, but I was certainly given a picture of Richard’s day to day reality. Thirteen years! And still so much love and compassion flowed from this man.

We mostly listened for a long time and then we asked Richard if it would be ok to pray for him and Becky. He was most grateful. We held hands and prayed together that they would be blessed in every way. Richard said “Well isn’t this something!”

And it was.

I truly felt like we were living “The Notebook” I saw that movie many times and I cry every time over the amazing love one person can feel for another, no matter what. Richard WAS James Garner. The funny thing was… I have driven by that stand many times over the last 4 summers and if it was open, there were always at least 3 cars stopped. We talked for probably 45 minutes and no one stopped and interrupted us. How cool is that?

This encounter, besides making me feel like I was in a surreal movie, brought me face to face with pure love.

True, mature love like Richard exhibited is

*Kind – Richard was kind to Becky. He was always thinking of what might trigger a memory or bring a bit of joy to her day. He talked of taking her down to the Waterworks, for instance. She couldn’t form the words, but it brought her obvious pleasure to relive Lake Superior and the beach at that certain spot.

*Unselfish – Richard didn’t think too long and hard about anything he was giving up when he moved from California and gave up his job and their home. Nor, after putting a lot of labor into restoring the family farm in lower Michigan, he thought nothing of walking away from it to move to Calumet if it would help her.

*Sacrificial – Read a book on caregiving for someone suffering with Alzheimer’s and you will realize 13 years and counting involves days hugely filled with sacrifice. Everyone knows the produce stand will open when he can get there. Depends on how the morning duties go with Becky. There are no set hours.

*Respectful – The entire conversation left me with the feeling that no one in the entire world had more value than Becky. There was total respect and honor heaped on this dear woman who had little idea at this point what a treasure she was to this man she no longer knew.

*Purposeful – The plans of every moment of Richard’s day are designed to create comfort, a sense of security and love for Becky. He seemed to have no higher purpose.

*Exciting – Every time Becky showed some sign of recognition of something, it was a stellar moment and so exciting to Richard. While he was realistic in his expectations, each day seemed to bring some excitement over a moment of lucidity or obvious pleasure in Becky’s demeanor.

*Anticipatory – Richard never once talked about “When Becky goes” or “When this is over” or I don’t know how much longer I can do this myself”. No! Not at all!! This dear man was talking about how this might help or that might help. I shared with him information on an exciting video I saw about the benefits of coconut oil in treating Alzheimer’s. I encouraged him to look into it. (video and book)

*Joy-filled – Joy to the point of tears, happy tears were very present in this short encounter. The fact that he was still permitted to have Becky by his side to love and care for brought Richard great joy.

I know without a doubt that Richard loves Becky. I am pretty sure Becky somehow knows she loves Richard, too. After all, she tells him he is PERFECT!

 

Maybe you have personally experienced the difficulties of this terrible disease in your family.  Here’s an opportunity to share your walk. What you did or didn’t do may help another who is following this blog.

Anne

About Anne

The youngest of 8, I was born in a tiny town in the Keeweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan in the late 40’s. My minister parents died 6 months apart around the time of my 5th birthday. My older siblings raised us in the family home until all were graduated except me. Gradually only the boys remained, so at the age of 10 I moved to other homes. My childhood was rich with experiences that sparked my young imagination. When I finally read the Anne of Green Gables series, I totally identified with Anne. I have just celebrated my 46th anniversary with my dear husband, Lou. Our daughter, April, 4 grandchildren and one great granddaughter bring our family a lot of joy and reasons to be thankful. I have worked at O’Connor Mortuary since 1996 where I handle the accounting. The Mortuary has become extended family and it is a source of satisfaction as a job I thoroughly enjoy. We attend the Village Church and that is another wonderful extended family, one who not only worships and learns together, but loves and prays for one another at the drop of a hat. We live in a retirement community and enjoy taking our two dogs, a Bernese Mountain Dog and little Cocker Spaniel, to Dana Point Harbor for Sunday jaunts. I absolutely love participating in the Mortuary Blog. I have found my voice! Thanks for following me.
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  • Lori

    Anne,
    I love how you write. I felt like I was right there in Michigan with you. I wish I could have been to give Richard a big hug.
    He sounds like the most amazing man. It makes those of us who still aspire to find true love one day know that there are really good men out there.
    My next free day that I feel like crying over a movie, I am watching The Notebook for sure. Believe it or not, I have never seen it. I love James Garner and know I will enjoy the movie.
    My grandma’s third husband had Alzheimer’s. She was not able to care for him long because she was already becoming elderly herself when he started getting bad. She visited him each day in a board and care until I moved her closer to me. We went and visited him often until he died in 2004. It is hard to watch.
    I loved reading about Richard’s dedication to Becky.
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story.
    Love you,
    Lori

  • Anne Collins

    Lori
    I don’t know when something has totally grabbed my heart like this did. I have to share “The Rest of the Story”, like Paul Harvey used to say.
    When I first wrote my draft of this in Michigan in Sept., Lou read it and said “Send it to the Editor of the Daily Mining Gazette. It is a good story. We tooled over to the coffee shop to use the wifi and sent it in. They called right away. The reporter said, “My editor likes it. She knows Richard and Becky. Shorten it to 400 words and we’ll see what she does. ”

    We left for the road trip home and no story. On 9/11 in the motel at night in Colorado, Lou says, Come look. You are in print! And there it was. Very cool, but shortened a lot from this blog.

    About two weeks ago I get this letter in the mail from LIllian in Calumet!

    “Thank you for writing such a beautiful tribute to Richard and Becky in our local paper. I graduated with Becky in 1952. You need to know she was the valedictorian of the class and the smartest one in our school. She belonged to countless clubs. She was an accomplished pianist and everyone who knew her, loved her. My husband and I were in their home many times, and like you, had opportunity to pray together with them. Richard really does watch over her well. They are wonderful people. I stopped by your home to thank you but you had already left. I stopped by the stand and Richard had seen the article and was amazed that a perfect stranger would do this for him and Becky. You touched a lot of lives with your article. ”

    That was a “wow” moment for sure. I know Lillian. She is my sister-in-law’s sister. But we have never corresponded.

    You never know the ripples that will occur when you write something.

    Watch “The Notebook” with a friend. You will want to talk about it afterward. There is a sequel.
    Love you,
    Anne

    • Lori

      Anne,
      What a great story!
      You, my friend, cause ripples whether writing or speaking. God has given you a tremendous gift.

      Blessed to call you friend,
      Lori

      • Anne Collins

        Oh Lori,
        What a loving thing to say. All of us cause ripples, whether good or bad. Some days life is more amazing than others.
        YOU have blessed me on more than one occasion.

        None of us knows what tomorrow will hold, whether our brains will stay intact or what we will be called upon to do for another.

        I have to say, I am taking coconut oil in small doses. I can tell when I have taken it, too.
        Hugs,
        Anne

    • This is incredible! You must have just made Richard’s whole year with your acknowledgement, sentiment & compassion for his amazing story! I love this Anne! You may just need to do a follow-up piece on this!

      • Anne Collins

        Thanks, Molly. And how you found that amazing picture to go with it. Do you realize, the few times I have flown in to the little airport there, this is exactly what you see from the air.
        Richard IS the story. If you met him, you would feel so blown away. Maybe no one would have seen how great the love was if the need had not been so great.
        I can’t forget it.
        Thank you for seeing that it was something that needed to be posted. What would we do without you at the helm, to encourage us and keep us writing.
        Love
        Anne

  • Anne,

    Great story to tell, true love conquers all. To me, this is the prime example of a true american hero. We get excited and call our sports figures heroes because they can hit a baseball 450 feet or throw a football 70 yards. But that pales in comparison to the heroes that sacrifice on a daily basis to love, serve and help one another. Sacrificing of oneself, putting others first, that is so powerful. My mom’s mom had Alzheimer’s it is a very brutal disease, you lose them before you lose them. I hope, if put in the same situation I would have the same compassion, love and understanding as Richard. thanks for sharing Anne.

    Chuck

    • Anne Collins

      Chuck,
      It is such an amazing disease and so sad to watch when you knew them when they had all their faculties. The smallest lack of understanding can be so frightening to that person who suffers. They also often have a real sweet spirit unless they are feeling fear and agitation.
      My neighbor, who is now deceased, had Alzheimer’s but stayed in the home for years until the last year, with caregivers and family support.
      One day our friend brought his dog over to visit her which was great because she loved dogs and used to have them in 3’s. She said what a nice dog as it came around the end of the sofa and petted him. The dog was sniffing and went behind the couch and came out on the other side. She said “What a nice dog YOU are. Say, do these dogs know each other?”
      Of course everyone got a chuckle, but it shows the devastation in the simplest of situations.

      Nothing is more powerful in this world than love, nothing more heroic. Especially when it can not be fully reciprocated. Then it becomes coupled with honor and commitment.
      Thanks for commenting
      Anne

  • Fitz

    Anne,

    What a great and moving blog. Thank You! It is a reminder that not only is life short but while were living it we need to be loving, respectful, kind and giving of ourselves with a selfless, joyous attitude.

    You brought those virtues to light with your beautifully written sharing.

    Regards,
    Fitz

    • Anne Collins

      Thanks, Fitz.
      Richard is an example to us all, isn’t he?
      I know you just recently lost an old buddy. So glad you made the trip to see him recently and were there for him. When the chances come to live it, we have to grab them and do the right thing. We never know if there will be another opportunity.
      Thanks for reading and posting,
      Anne

  • Anne,
    A big lesson for me in my first few years of marriage was that love & relationship very often deal with and involve levels of sacrifice. Sometimes it’s an easy or good thing to give up, other times it’s everything we can do to give up what is standing in the way of a better, deeper relationship.
    I personally can’t fathom the level of sacrifice this dear man has so willingly made for Becky. It’s an incredible price but to see someone so sweet & simplistic model his life in such a dramatic way after Christ & all for a woman who doesn’t remember him is incredibly humbling and astounding. We read stories like these in books or see them dramatically played out in movies but this is the real thing and it blows me away.

    Thank you for sharing not only this amazing story but your insight as well into the world of alheimer’s & giving us tools to better understand this unthinkable disease. Beautifully done!

    • Anne Collins

      Molly,
      Yes Christ is the ultimate example of love and sacrifice for me. 47 years of marriage to the same guy would lend a lot of examples, both of giving and of being selfish, of seeing the resulting hurts or pleasures. Giving more than you might get back always works best. And respect. That’s a biggie. We can be so blinded by an irritation or something we think the other should be doing or should just “know” without words, that we make unnecessary trouble and create boulders in the relationship. Richard showed a whole list of ways we ought to be with our partners in about 30 minutes.
      And yes, he is doing it without reciprocation, unless being “perfect”, is enough for now.
      Hugs,
      Anne

  • Nice story, Anne. I loved “The Notebook” too. I’m in CA now as our dad was hospitalized with a stroke. Hope to see you Wednesday at Rotary if you’re there.
    Blessings, Coleen

    • Anne Collins

      Glad you made it safely here, Coleen. Sent up prayer for your dad. Plan to be there next Wednesday, so looking forward to hugs and greetings.
      Thanks for taking time to read about Richard.
      Bless you! Anne

  • Shayna Mallik

    Wow, Anne this is an amazing and heart touching blog. Thank you so much for sharing this experience with us. I truly felt like I was there with you speaking to Richard and hearing his love for his wife. How amazing to pick up the life you know so well so your wife is near surrounding she grew up with. That is true love at its best!!!
    Thank you again for sharing another amazing blog!

    <3 Shayna

    • Anne Collins

      Thanks, Shayna.
      We never know when we are young where life will take us. We only know that if we live it well and then are blessed to have someone we love to share it, we can conquer just about anything life throws at us.
      I wish all of you could meet Richard. Sweet, sweet man.
      Hugs,
      Anne

  • Kari Leslie

    Annie,
    Thank you so much for sharing this amazing experience. In our house, we would say “he was raised right!” Isn’t it funny that my mind was immediately drawn to his mother. Being the mother of two marvelous boys, I hope that one day they will be half the men that Richard is. What’s even more fantastic, is that you have brought Richard into the lives of other men and women who can learn and revel in the joy of someone who is so utterly and completely unselfish. Not only to his wife, but to the community she loved as a child, by bringing Becky and home grown food to the population. I LOVE this Annie, and I LOVE you!!

    kari

    • Anne Collins

      Kari
      You ARE a good mom. I see signs of it all the time. Raising boys to respect and treat the women in their lives right does go back to a good mother, I think. Thanks for pointing out that important part of the equation.
      Recently we sold our too large china cabinet to a very nice man. He came to pay the balance yesterday and brought his wife who is in the end stages of Alzheimer’s to visit. What a sweet lady. I decided, after seeing how kind and caring he was to her, to print out this blog and give it to him. It seems that Richard may not be the only unsung hero. I was shown another yesterday.
      Love you!
      Annie

      • Kari Leslie

        Annie,
        Maybe God is trying to show you something. Whenever something like this happens to me, I think, this is more than coincidence. I am going to take it home and let my boys read it. I am afraid that if we mother’s don’t work on the boys in our lives, that men like Richard may be a dying breed!! I want so badly for my girls to find and enjoy a life with a man like him!!
        oxoxox
        kari

        • Anne Collins

          Kari
          Lou and I talked about that. Not sure how, but yes, significant. We talked about wondering if that was going to be our road ahead for one or the other of us or was there some other reason. I love coincidences, while I believe there is no such thing.
          XOXOXO
          Annie

  • Carrie Bayer

    Anne, this is absolutely beautiful & it brought tears to my eyes. How wonderful that you had the opportunity to spend time with this amazing man & hear his story. We all have a story- some good, some bad- but stories about what shaped us into who we are. This story is a testament to true love & dedication, thank you so much for showing us that there are inspiring stories out there! XOXOX Carrie

    • Anne Collins

      Thank you, Carrie. I have not been able to shake the emotions of that encounter. I am so glad I was able to convey in this short blog some of what I saw and felt enough for others to feel it, too.
      It really hit home again yesterday when another man brought his wife into our home while he arranged moving of a piece of furniture he bought from us. His wife is in the end stages of the disease. His tender care of her was another reminder of Richard.
      XOXOX
      Anne

  • Anne –

    Wow what a great love story! I am so impressed with how much we can love each other, Richard is a classic example of Gods love for ALL! We maybe lost in our minds, lost in our souls, lost in our daily actions, yet Gods love with be with us no matter what.

    • Anne Collins

      Neil
      You are so right. We had a funny little incident happen for Lou and I last week that was cool. I thought it over later and saw the Hand of God at work and His great love exhibited in this tiny little thing and went “WOW! It was totally humbling. We are all so loved, if we open our eyes and see it.
      This has brought up new topics for conversation in our house too. How would we handle a similar situation. It means a lot to know your partner takes “For better or worse” seriously.
      Hugs
      Anne

  • Jeff

    Anne,

    Thank you for sharing this story. The picture you paint and perspective of what is really important in life is a call to take inventory of my own priorities. We never seem to tire of a love story. Ones like this, where “Happily Ever After” might not be applied, are those that have the greatest impact. It is the “no matter what” promise that is not so common these days. It sounds good on the day of the wedding when everything is clean and new and anticipation of what will be runs so high. It is quite another when the fantasy melts away and the reality becomes so difficult to bare.

    This is an inspiring story indeed. One that requires introspection and rumination to begin to unlock the layers of the depth of it.

    Thank you again,

    Jeff

    • Anne Collins

      Jeff
      You bring up a good point. Lots of people don’t even bother with marriage nowadays, and if they do, many don’t seem to be committed to anything that might be too tough. The “no matter what” promise is probably even removed from some of the more current vows.
      Here is a guy who in a few minutes reveals depth and character that we hope we have and hope we can count on in our mates and our kids and our extended family and friends.
      thanks for your thoughts,
      Anne

  • Patricia Kolstad

    Anne,
    This is as unusual as it can be . . . for Richard, this amazing man, to have spent the past 13 years caring for Becky, without medication or help, is a miracle in and of itself. For what I have discovered and read is that most often the caregiver sacrifices health and well being when caring for one who has this disease. The often die before the one who is suffering. And for him to be still working is just simply amazing. I do hope you will keep us all posted (does any of your family live in the area) on how both of them are doing. Love can conquer all things . . this is a story for the ages! Thank you so much!
    Pat

    • Anne Collins

      Pat
      Lou was saying I should contact Richard and find out more of their story. I would be able to, I am sure, in a town that size to be able to learn his last name and more about them. I didn’t want to intrude in any further way, but yet I was so compelled to write about him. Love does conquer all, that’s for sure.
      Loved what you wrote on the same subject. There sure is more of it around these days. It will affect more families than it used to. We have to be more informed and more prepared.
      Hugs,
      Annie

  • amy

    Anne,

    Wow! I sit hear reading and tears are running down my face and chills cover my soul. What an amazing journey that you got to be a part of. Things happen for a reason I truly believe that. Thank you for sharing your story with me. I so enjoy getting to read your blogs they are so inspirational and have such meaning and depth to them.
    You are an amazing woman and I am blessed to know and work with you.

    Amy

  • Anne Collins

    Amy,
    Thanks for taking the time to read the blog. I wish I could have just taken you guys in my pocket to meet Richard. It definitely was a moment to remember.
    Hugs,
    Anne

  • Anne,

    You’ve written a beautiful story about Richard and Becky. Well done.

    Your words match the beauty of the fall leaves in the photo. Full of color and a reminder of the changing seasons we experience in this life.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Joey

    • Anne

      Joey
      Thank you for reading my blog. May we never personally quite have to deal with this one. It seems toooo much.
      Appreciate your comments, our “family author”.
      Hugs.
      Anne

  • Lynda

    Anne,

    A beautiful memory, you bring it to life. The love Richard expressed for Becky was moving and inspiring.
    I pray I can show this love to the people in my circle.

    Lynda

    • Anne

      Lynda,
      Glad you got to read this. You, of course, were there and started the whole conversation. It was amazingly moving, wasn’t it?

      I think you do show great patience and love to those in your family who depend on you. You are a rock, when a rock is needed. Lou and I pray every day for blessing and wisdom as you handle the needs of the family there. We pray for God to bless all of you as you help each other.

      Love you
      Anne