May 19, 2010 in Writing
Her husband, John J. O’Connor III, was a prominent lawyer in Arizona as well, before moving to Washington, D.C. with her, where he maintained a low public profile and practiced law until 2003. This story isn’t about that, either.
John O’Connor died in November of 2009, after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s almost 20 years before, and this story is somewhat about that.
Sandra Day O’Connor retired from the Supreme Court in 2006, in part to attend to her husband’s deteriorating condition.
Still, none of these details make this a ‘true love’ story, or at least not a terribly unusual one. It’s the rest of the story that bring out the depth of Sandra’s love for her husband.
She and other family members experienced the heartbreak of watching John slowly forget who they were. John was institutionalized in an assisted-care facility. While there, he formed an attachment to another resident, and Sandra would visit them as they sat together, holding hands.
When John was moved to another area in the facility as his condition deteriorated, he formed an attachment to another woman there. Sandra’s love made it possible for her to understand and accept all of this despite her own heartbreak because, while all memory of her had faded, his new attachments elevated him from depression to happiness.
Not only is it a measure of the emotional devastation of Alzheimer’s, that with the loss of memory comes the experiences of loneliness, abandonment, and hopelessness, but it is a testament to the power of true love that, indeed, if you love some one you will set them free.