“Mom, we found it!” yelled Becky and Natalie to their mother who was now resting in her bedroom. The girls, as mom called them, spent their entire Saturday, turning the house upside down looking for the wooden heart-shaped box that their dad Tom had given their mother back when they first started dating. Tom enjoyed working with his hands and loved tinkering in the garage with his father’s tools. Tom was so excited to work on his next project, a heart-shaped wooden box. He wanted to make it for Patty, the love of his life, who lived next door. Tom was secretly in love with Patty and wanted to give her the box on Valentine’s Day and ask her to be his girl. As he finished the box, his father admired his work and told him that Patty would be a fool not to accept it. The box was made of mahogany with an inlaid rose made of oak on the top. Tom hand-painted the rose a beautiful shade of red, to match the roses in the rose garden in front of Patty’s house.
Well, Tom gave Patty the box, asked her to be his girl and she accepted. They were together for almost 70 years before tom passed away in 2018. Patty took Tom’s death hard. She couldn’t imagine life without her Tom. She spent all of her days for the next two years carrying that box around with her. No matter where she went, Patty had that box. She somehow found an oversized Ziploc bag to keep it in and kept it in her tote bag. She would continue to sit on the porch at 8 am, 1 pm, and 6 pm, the same times she used to sit with Tom except now it was just her and the box. She would pull it from her tote, take it from the bag and look through the contents of the box. She said that this was her way of still spending her time with Tom. The neighbors would keep an eye on her and Becky and Natalie would stop by throughout the week and on the weekends to check on her.
After a few elderly neighbors had gotten bad colds and died from what everyone thought was a bad case of the flu, only to find out that they had Covid 19, Becky realized that to keep their mom safe, one of them would need to be there with her at all times. Since Becky lived alone, she would be the ideal person to move in and help take care of her mom. Becky didn’t think it would be that difficult because the house was a four-bedroom, three-bathroom home. There was plenty of space for Becky to move into. Patty had already packed up Tom’s things in the home office, so Becky would have a work area should she need it. The bedrooms had already been turned into guest suites after the girls went off to college.
Becky moved into the family home in March of 2020, just before the pandemic hit and a couple of years after Becky’s father, Tom, passed away from a heart attack. Patty was never the same after that. It was if Patty decided to die along with Tom. She gave up on living. She would sit for hours holding that heart-shaped wooden box. Patty kept that box with all of the small trinkets and things that were precious to her. She had her original promise ring, a locket, a concert ticket from the sixties, and a double heart pendant that was weathered and faded, with an inscription that was barely legible ‘you complete me.’ It was a prize that Tom won at the county fair for Patty many years ago and he had it inscribed while they were there. Patty also kept a button off of Tom’s service uniform and the Purple Heart that he received while in the military. The girls tried to get their mom to allow them to make a shadow box for her items, but Patty insisted on keeping them in the Heart-shaped box. “It’s what Tom would have wanted”, she would say. Missing their dad and the isolation due to the pandemic didn’t serve Patty well. They believed that it pushed her into a deeper state of depression.
Patty adjusted well to Becky coming back home. She had her routine and Becky knew not to try to disrupt that routine, which was one of the agreements made before she moved in. After being there for a few months, Becky noticed that her mom kept misplacing the heart-shaped box. One minute she would have it and then it would be gone the next. Usually, Becky could find it with just a few minutes of backtracking where she saw her mom go earlier in the day. However, with each occurrence, it seemed to take a bit longer to find.
It was 5:00 pm on Friday, October 15, 2021. Becky backed away from her computer, stood, and stretched towards the sky. She glanced out of her office window and saw the neighborhood kids playing in the street in front of the house. She smiled and thought about how much fun she used to have, playing on that same street, many years ago. She watched them for a while and then decided to go into the kitchen to get a drink of juice before she would start dinner and then see about her mother, who was recently diagnosed with Dementia.
As Becky opened her office door, she could see what looked like a whirlwind had gone through the house. Papers had been strewn to and fro. Every cabinet and drawer had been pulled open and left in the open position. It was obvious that her mother was having another bad day with dementia and couldn’t find anything. Becky took a deep breath as she stepped out of the office, trying to prepare herself for what she might find. As she made her way into the kitchen, she saw her mother in a bit of a fit.
Becky watched her mom pace back and forth across the kitchen floor while mumbling to herself aloud. Every time Becky asked Patty if she could help her find whatever she was looking for, Patty ignored her. Finally, after about fifteen minutes of pacing, Becky couldn’t take it anymore. She walked up to Patty, placed both of her hands on her shoulders, trying not to frighten her, “Mom, what are you looking for?” Becky said in her mild-mannered voice. She waited until her mom looked at her. Patty’s eyes were filled with tears, but she said nothing. “Mom, please let me help you. What are you looking for?” Becky said, raising her voice to a tone that Patty was not familiar with and it startled her.
Patty looked at Becky, shook her head, and then continued to pace. Becky ran to her mother, pulled her down in the chair at the breakfast table, and kneeled before her. “Mom….Mom…Mom!”, Becky’s tone got louder with each call until her mom snapped out of the trance she was in. Patty looked up at Becky and finally broke her silence with whaling and sobbing as if she had lost the love of her life. Patty continued to cry, shaking her head from left to right. “No, No, No,” Patty said. You can’t help me. No one can help me.” Patty cried and cried for what seemed like the rest of the evening. Becky decided to leave her mother in the kitchen and go into the living room and call her sister Natalie. When Natalie answered the phone, Becky yelled, “get here quick, we have a problem with mom.”
Twenty minutes later, Natalie arrived at the family home. She rushed in, to find Becky still trying to calm their mother down. Becky was finally able to get her to tell her what was wrong, she couldn’t find her heart-shaped box. Natalie suggested that Becky get mom into bed and once she was settled in, they would search for the box. Patty agreed to go back into her room and wait for them. Becky gave her a sandwich, a cup of tea, and her evening medicine. Once Patty completed everything, she climbed into bed and drifted off to sleep.
It took four hours of them searching when Becky finally found the heart-shaped box hidden behind a pillow on her dad’s favorite chair, that Patty had her move into her bedroom, earlier that morning.
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