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My Pretty Lady Richard Peña | Sat, Dec 31 2011 12:00 PM

The other day I lost my best friend.  On Christmas Eve morning Zula, my wife of 65 years, quietly died. Thus, in the space of a few minutes, she threw off that massive yoke that is inflicted on those with Alzheimer’s and rid herself of the pangs and indignities that was her lot for the past 10 years or so, and once more become whole.
In retrospect we could say that she left us much sooner.
Alzheimer’s, as you know, is a disease that robs the individual of any companionship or friendship she might have with others. And this in turn robs the other person, the one looking in, of a similar state. In other words, the expected quality of life is very much lacking. Ah, but there were many other times.
For the past couple of weeks Zula had been under the care of San Diego Hospice. Her physician, Dr. John Dodge, had deemed this as the optimum way in her state. One day one of the hospice persons was over and we were talking. She was surprised that we had been wed for 65 years. That got me to do a bit of reminiscing about those years.
I think that when someone is wed, and they spend many years in that state, we might say that their marriage career is of three stages. There is the beginning, that period of newlywed bliss when the two are just trying to know one another. We know the other’s likes and dislikes, we select those traits that are common to  both and we capitalize on them. Simple things become the norm.  I recall that we lived in a house in Mission Hills. On Saturdays we would walk over to the main street, catch the city bus and ride the few blocks over to the first shopping center.  The little center had a Piggly-Wiggly. We would buy a couple of sacks of groceries, catch our bus and go home. What could be simpler than that?
The second stage was the kid-raising era. Grocery shopping, as well as other mundane things, gave way to the proper raising of kids. The two agreed on a method or a process that was better going to accomplish this end. They put it into play and hoped for the best. More often than not, the plan worked and the couple was elated with their second stage success. At least, this is the way Zula and I saw it.
Then we come to stage three, what we call the empty-nest era.  This happened to Zula and me.  We saw our last kid leave home, we retired from our business and were free to do as we pleased.  And we did. We bought a new car and we saw the country. We came home and planned another trip. And so it went, doing those things that retired people do.
There came a time when I knew that those times had come to an end.  Zula was no more able to travel, either by car or flying.  The disease had grabbed her and would not let go. We kept her at home and, with the aid of professional help and others, we made her life as comfortable as possible. Slowly but surely we would see one simple task after another slip away from her. We still hung in there.
I remember once a couple of years back when she was still able to walk. It was in the early spring. The day was cold but nice and I walked her out to the deck of my barn, one of our favorite places. I sat her down, made her comfortable and pointed out the rain tree to her, which was now absent of leaves.  I told her the story of Henry the raven and, as if on cue, Henry arrived, squawking as usual. Henry, you know, had no one to love. I held Zula’s hand, looked up at Henry and said, “I got mine, Henry.  How you doing?” Zula looked in my direction and smiled. I think she knew what that was all about.
In our first stage of marriage Zula liked to shop. We would hop the downtown bus and haunt the department stores, looking and sometimes buying an item or two. Her favorite was the Walker-Scott store. The elevators would take us up and down to the various departments and it made for a pleasant day. The store had a photo shop, one of those places where they would take portrait shots of a person, let you select your favorite negative and print images for you.  Early in our marriage I talked her into having one done. It became my favorite portrait of her.  It has hung, all these years, in the hallway of our house. When people are over and pass that array of photographs they spot that one of Zula and remark, “What a pretty lady!”
The other day, when Zula left us for that better world, I am sure that the sentry at the gate said, “Come in, Pretty Lady. You are always welcome here.”

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