"I once lived close to a man in Mirfield called Arthur. Arthur lived approximately twenty yards down the road from me in one of the old folk's bungalows. Arthur was in his mid eighties when I first met him, yet was still mobile enough to get out of his house daily. For over one year after moving into my property, I would frequently see Arthur each Sunday afternoon standing by the bus stop with a modest bunch of flowers. He always wore a flat cap and an old pair of National Health spectacles which rested snugly on the bridge of his nose and gave the impression that he looked over them to see you instead of through them. I would greet Arthur as I passed him, but before he ever spoke to you, he had this habit of first gently stroking his grey moustache as though he was smoothing out the words he planned to say before voicing them. Polite in every respect, he was what we would call 'a perfect gentleman.'
I had a young family at the time and being a busy Probation Officer who often left for work before the children breakfasted each morning and returned at the end of the day just in time to read them their bedtime story, I mostly saw Arthur on a weekend and knew very little about him initially apart from the fact that he had served in both the First and Second World Wars. For reasons unknown to me, he had no children and for well over a year, I wrongly presumed that given his age, he was a widower.
I was later to learn that Arthur was not a widower and that he and his wife had been married for over sixty years. When I enquired about Arthur's wife, I learned that about six years earlier she had developed a form of dementia and over this period she had lost her capacity to remember faces, people and recent events, though she would often speak of happenings which occurred sixty years ago with great clarity. I also learned that when his wife Alice had first entered the Home that Arthur visited her daily. Over time, his visits became less often because of his own ill health issues and increased difficulty in movement.
During the last three years of his life, I spoke with Arthur and gradually got to know him more as he lived next door but one to an old friend of mine called Mary Milner. I would usually call in and check on Mary daily and occasionally I would knock on Arthur's door and inquire if he was okay. Arthur would always invite me in for a cup of tea and sometimes I would accept his offer and we would talk a while. It was during one of those visits that Arthur told me about Alice's gradual loss of short term memory and the onset of Alzheimer's in its later stages. I naturally asked him if he found it hard to cope with seeing his wife in a Home because he could no longer care for her in their bungalow. I regretted asking him the question almost as soon as I'd voiced it once I sensed him well up in tears as he considered his reply.
Over the following months, Arthur told me that his greatest hurt was not seeing his beloved wife in a home, but in being obliged to observe the gradual loss of her memory. He cried silently as he told me that there are as many times that she does not recognise him. She might acknowledge a familiarity in his presence without knowing precisely who her visitor was or indeed, even remembering that she'd had a visitor. Arthur reminded me that though true love between him and Alice was still as real as it ever was, like a ghost, which many talk of but few ever see, it sometimes seemed a thing of the past. He lamented that old age is the most unexpected of things to happen to a happy couple as they go through life and he spoke of a kind of rare love that can only grow out of friendship, understanding and genuine respect that still stands proud between a couple when all else has fallen.
He told me that when he visited Alice, despite knowing that her mind will not comprehend who he is, why he's there or what he's saying, he still tells her about his day and also talks to her about the neighbourhood goings on. 'I know it may mean nothing to her now' Arthur said, 'but it means something to me.'
Once Arthur showed me a photograph of his bride on the day they married and spoke of her beauty. As he described her as 'the best looking lass in the
village', he told me that he still sees that beauty in her today, even though the face has changed and lost its lustre. His words reminded me of a wonderful saying I once read by the Irish playwright, Sabastian Barry, 'I miss her face, it's beauty, and its beauty lost.'
The thing that will stay with me longest though when I think of Arthur whom I knew too briefly and his wife Alice whom I never met, is the reason why he continued to visit a wife who no longer recognised who he was. It was because as Arthur stated, 'Alice may have forgotten who I am, but I still know who she is! You know, it is possible for you to love someone so much that you will move heaven and earth to stay near them, but you can never love them as much as you miss them when they leave you. Each day, I sense Alice moving farther away and I hate the fact that I cannot drag her back.' " William Forde: December 18th, 2015.