PUBLISHED: 4:56 PM on Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Lessons on love
Worth remembering
It dawned on me last week that as much as I hate seeing my mom live with Alzheimer's, the disease has taught me what love is.

If you have a loved one with the disease, then maybe you'll understand.

I've learned that love is tenderly holding our loved one's hands as they put their faith in where we're taking them - even if it's just a walk down the hallway.

I've learned that love is catching a glimmer of recognition when their eyes search ours - even if they forget us five seconds later.

And I've learned love believes that life and family should never be taken for granted.

I may not be able to stop the disease, but I can look to three solid attributes to help me cope in tough times: faith, hope and love. And I believe those will get us through.

* * *

I spent yesterday morning with one of my favorite valentines.

First, we kissed. Then we held hands.

We even had our picture taken by a passerby. The photo displays show-stopping smiles, reflecting a love that endures through the seasons of life.

We laughed. We sang. We unhurriedly walked arm in arm, my valentine and I.

We savored hot coffee seasoned with sweet conversation, while I held my valentine's hand beneath the table.

All too soon, the morning came to an end.

"Don't go," my valentine gently pleaded. "Stay a little longer."

So I did. Because while I know our love endures through the seasons, I also realize my Valentine is in the winter of life.

This valentine - a love I've known for 46 years - is my mom. She lives with Alzheimer's and the constant struggle of grasping the memory of loved ones' faces. But somehow she still manages to maintain her humor, and always comes when it's needed most. Like yesterday, for example.

"You know, Mom, Valentine's Day is coming up."

"Yes. Would you like some chocolate?" she asked with a big grin.

I eyed her suspiciously.

"You have chocolate?" - I never know what I might find in her room. Besides, she knows "chocolate" is one of my favorite words.

"No," She giggled.

"Mom, that wasn't nice," I chided. "Don't ask if I want chocolate if you don't have any!"

We laughed, my valentine and me. And in that moment, I treasured all of the Valentine's Days we've celebrated through the seasons of life, with one in particular.

It happened when I walked into my bedroom after another tough day of seventh grade. Atop my bed lay a beautiful, handmade heart-shaped pillow made out of pink satin. Embroidered words in white thread read "Be mine," surrounded by crafted designs of Cupid, kissing lovers, flowers, and birds.

I looked up at Mom, who eagerly yet silently waited at my door.

She smiled.

"Mom, it's beautiful."

"Happy Valentine's Day. I love you," she said in her typical, unassuming style.

Today, that pillow sits among other decorator pillows atop my bed. It daily reminds me that while we grow older through the seasons of life, and while we may possibly one day forget our loved ones' names, the love we have for them will always remain.

In the summer of my life, that's one Valentine's Day message worth remembering. And that beats chocolate any ol' day.

Judy Halone is a member of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.