There they were again, my 81-year-old dad and 82-year-old mom, all hugged up.
This time, Mommy lay across Daddy's lap in their favorite rocker. Her gray head lay on his chest; his gray head rested against the back of the chair. He held her gently, lulling her to sleep. Both seemed oblivious to the television in the background and to me, standing there with my Samsung cell phone video camera pointed at them.
My brother and I grew up seeing this kind of affection between our parents. But the tenderness of the moment—the sweet way Daddy held her, the peaceful look on her sleeping face, and the uncertainty of the future, had prompted me to hit the "record" button on my mobile phone.
Then, with little thought, I later posted the video on my Facebook page, among the dozens of other family memories I've shared with friends. I was astonished later that day, when my son called to say the video had gone viral.
As I write, the video has received 4.5 million views. When singer Kelly Rowland shared the video on her page and added a clip from her song," This Is Love," it quickly picked another 1.5 million views.
"That's more than sweet. Oh how I pray for that kind of love," one woman wrote.
"We all hope our spouse will love us this much," wrote another.
"I want to be her one day," proclaimed yet another, with no way of knowing what that really meant.
You see, my mother, Doris M. Jones, has Alzheimer's and dementia. One of the most difficult things my family has faced is experiencing what these dreadful diseases are doing to her. They have stolen so much, but not the love that my dad, Ervin L. Jones, still shows the petite, caramel-colored bride he married 56 years ago—a love that has drawn all those strangers to a 39-second video.
The couple's journey together started in 1951, his senior year of high school. His football team from Mobile, Alabama, had just won a game, and the teenagers were celebrating at a dance in Pensacola, Florida. As he scanned the room, he noticed that practically everybody else had a dance partner.
"I looked around, and there she was standing alone, and that's when things changed," Daddy recalled.
Mommy was his wife, he told me, and God put him on earth to take care of her.
He'd seen her around their high school the year before, but she had moved on to become a big-time freshman at a Mobile college, called The Branch (now Bishop State Community College). Somehow, he got up the nerve to ask her to dance. They spent the rest of the night talking and soon became inseparable.
Their only separation came when he joined the U.S. Army in 1953 and was stationed away. She waited for him faithfully, and in 1959, they got married.
"We were never apart again," Daddy said. "We will never be apart again until the Lord says it's time, and we will still be as one. I believe that."
After his military service, the couple settled in Mobile, and Daddy eventually went to work as a machine color operator at Scott's Paper Co., where he worked 28 years before retiring in 1994.
Mommy became a first grade teacher, a job she loved and held for more than 25 years, until she retired to take care of my middle son. Theirs was a traditional marriage. Mommy did all the washing, cleaning, and cooking; daddy took care of everything else. And they pretty much stayed in their lanes—until now.
The diagnosis came five years ago, slowly changing our worlds. Even though my brother lives out of state, and I work full time and operate a home-based business (GasBlast Travel Agency), we have made our parents our priority. They did it first for us; now, it's our turn.
I visit every other day and assist with some cooking, household chores, baths, phone calls, or whatever Daddy needs. But I finally managed to persuade him that he needed more help. After a couple of occasional workers came and went, though, he decided he could handle this on his own. Mommy was his wife, he told me, and God put him on earth to take care of her.
That was one of the many times I had to walk away so that my parents wouldn't see the tears. They think I'm the strongest woman on earth, but the tears come far more frequently now. Sometimes, I look at them and remember how they always told us that they were one. Now, they literally are: Mommy, physically strong but mentally weak; Daddy, mentally strong but physically weak.
It's touching to see Daddy trying so hard. This old-fashioned man, who never had to wash, clean or cook in his younger days, has learned to do it all. Well...almost. Once, when I was visiting, Daddy told me he'd fried an egg for the first time. "It didn't come out like your mom's eggs," he said. Poor daddy. He'd fried the eggs in old fish grease.
He wasn't thrilled when my brother and I signed mom up for a day camp twice a week, but he finally got used to the idea that she was safe there, too. And that she liked the camp. Besides, she even thought she was the principal, in charge of the other clients. One day, the camp owner called me to share a story. Mommy, all prim and proper, had walked up to one of the other ladies and announced: "If you don't get your work done, you will be let go!"
Daddy and I laughed so hard that day, and so did my brother when we told him the story. We've all learned to let go and laugh when we can. God knows, Alzheimer's can be funny, too.
It took a long time for Daddy to accept that mom was really ill. I can only imagine what it must do to his soul when she can't remember his name, or when her eyes say that she has no idea who he is. I know what it does to mine when she says one moment, sounding like her old self, "Gina, I love you," and then an hour later, her expression asks: Now, who are you again?
But I've never seen Daddy waver. Not once. Not in his concern for her. Not in the tender way he cares for her. Not in the genuine affection he shows to her.
My parents' example has been my roadmap. I've been married now for 32 years, and I know I couldn't hold myself up sometimes without the support, patience, and understanding of my husband.
When mom occasionally spends the night at our home, guess where she wants to sleep? Yep, in the bed with me. My hubby has never complained. And, of course, Daddy always calls multiple times, asking if she is ok and whether she is asleep. He has trouble falling asleep without her.
My parents certainly weren't perfect. I'm sure they argued, as couple often do. I'm sure there were disagreements and tears. But I barely recall any of those. I remember the prayers, though. Those were constant. I recall the abundance of laughter and kisses, the hand holding in public, and private kitchen slow dances—all of the little things that said to two impressionable kids their parents really dug each other.
I'd like to think that's what so many people saw in the video of my parents, the thing we all yearn to know: A love that will endure time and tests, and a lover who will hold us gently when we are frail and gray.
This story was written by Gina Scott, who lives in Mobile, Alabama.