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In 1953, James Hodge sat behind Louise in an economics class at Bob Jones University and noticed how beautiful she was. He asked her out, but the only dates he could afford were free campus events. To his delight, “she fell in love with me, even though I was poor as a church mouse,” he said. When Louise graduated from college, they married one Friday in June 1955. Unable to afford a honeymoon, they went back to work the following Monday.
Money remained tight as the couple had three children and James pursued more education, but they were happy, and “we knew God would take care of us,” James said. Later, after James settled into a long career at DuPont, he traveled frequently for work and took Louise along whenever he could: “The greatest thing about marriage is companionship. … We were always together.”
But life changed when Louise was diagnosed with dementia. A couple of years ago, the Hodges moved into a retirement community in Midlothian, Va., after Louise began developing mobility problems. There, James noticed—to his surprise—that Louise was becoming forgetful: She had forgotten how to use a telephone and remote control.
Still, James remembers that even then she wanted to do things with him: After dinner, she would ask him to pick out a good movie for them to watch. But “step by step, dementia was taking hold,” said James. Eventually, she didn’t even want to watch movies, just go back to bed. It was much different from the days when the couple traveled together on work trips and visited their daughter and grandchildren in Colorado.
James managed to care for Louise for a year. But she found it harder and harder to walk: One day she fell three times, despite her walker. The emergency room doctor said she needed to move into the memory care unit immediately.
The day she moved out, James returned alone to their apartment. The reality that his wife was gone hit him. “I just completely broke down,” said James, now 86. “After 60-plus years of being together, making decisions, working our way through hard spots, it’s just difficult.”
Not long after moving into the new facility, Louise told him, “I love you, and I always have.” James looked back at her and wondered, “How in the world did she date me for a year and a half when I could never treat her to anything?”
At this point, Louise, who is 85, has forgotten where James lives, and her memory has deteriorated to the point that they cannot maintain a conversation. He said that sometimes at church he feels overwhelmed by grief that she is no longer sitting beside him. “I have lost the companionship of the love of my life for 65 years and it hurts,” he said.
Still, he sees her for about an hour every day: “What often I do is give her a kiss and tell her I love her, and she always gives me a big smile.”